Politics — 28 February 2013

A new National Mental Health Commission report that claims Australians lack basic knowledge about mental illness has been questioned by leading sector Not for Profits.

The report, Can we talk… about mental health and suicide is based on anecdotal evidence and claims that Australians feel they lack the most basic knowledge of mental illness and struggle to make sense of it.

Beyondblue chief executive Kate Carnell said that while some of the comments made by participants in the study were very real, it was important to remember that the report is not research in its “truest sense”.

“The report was based on informal, pre-existing groups. It’s wrong to put it into the solid research space,” Carnell said.

The National Mental Health Commission report says it is based on informal group discussions carried out by research firm, Think: Insight and Advice, which set out to recreate the conversations Australians are having about mental health and suicide at home, at work and with their friends.

However, Carnell said that the anecdotal evidence used in the study was “not consistent” with its own beyondblue research.

She said that the finding that many Australians ‘don’t know a single sign to look out for’ when it comes to mental illness was “certainly not in-line with our research”.

“Our research shows that the majority of people know the major symptoms of depression,” Carnell said.

The National Mental Health Commission was set up by the Gillard Government as an independent agency to assist in its mental health reform agenda.

National Mental Health Commissioner Janet Meagher said that the study reinforces that while there are stories to tell, Australians are still struggling to make sense of mental illness and suicide.

“This study highlights that the stigma associated with accessing the mental health system is still one of the biggest barriers to treatment,” Meagher said.

“Australian culture is singled out for criticism for discouraging open and forthright communication and for a loss of community connectedness.”

But SANE Australia Chief Executive Jack Heath disagreed and said that the level of awareness in the Australian community on mental health issues is “way off the charts” compared to other countries.

“In the midst of incremental growth it’s hard to see how far you’ve come. We’ve made a lot of progress over the last ten years.”

Participants in the NMHC study said that they felt Australia is in the midst of an epidemic of mental illness and suicide, while highlighting that if a health issue isn’t in the media, it can feel as if it doesn’t exist.

Beyondblue’s Kate Carnell said that while Australians now have a better knowledge of depression they have less knowledge of anxiety.

“We need to continue to do what has been done for depression. We need to talk more and write more, particularly in the suicide space,” Carnell said.

Commissioner Jackie Crowe said that the research was commissioned to provide insight into how we perceive and deal with mental health issues.

“Hopefully it can contribute to a more informed discussion on mental health difficulties and suicide prevention, that helps make these issues a priority for all Australians.”

Jack Heath said that the research was “a good starting block” for further research.

“But we should be looking at tracking a larger sample group, annually,” he said.

As first appeared in Pro Bono Australia – See more at: http://www.probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2013/02/nfps-question-mental-health-report?utm_source=Pro+Bono+Australia+-+email+updates&utm_campaign=1f0dd98638-news_feb_282_28_2013&utm_medium=email#sthash.0YdekPmu.dpuf


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