The COVID pandemic has impacted almost all aspects of our daily lives and mental health has definitely been no exception. For students in particular, school lockdowns forced them into an unfamiliar “learning at home” system bringing anxiety and fear for many students who already had to adjust into the new ATAR system. Yet, mental health is a much more prevalent though often “silent” topic with the Department of Heath reporting nearly half of all Australian adults will experience mental illness within their lives.
Even so, stigmatisation against sufferers of mental illnesses including clinical depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder continues to shame and worsen their circumstances. The National Stigma Report Card found 94.2% of participants agreed they had encountered content they found hurtful or offensive on social media because of the way mental health issues were portrayed.
With the recent Men’s Health Week that ran from 14-20 June, it is important to overcome these misguided stigmi which downplay mental disorders as being “all in the head” or which can be “snapped out of”. The reality for many people experiencing mental health issues, including several of my close friends, is these misconceptions only act as another barrier in their journey to recovery.
After delving into research on stigmatisation and mental health with the guidance of Brisbane State High’s brilliant School-based Youth Health Nurse, Marie Pritchard, two key points have resonated with me the most:
First, stigmatisation against mental illness is rooted in fear. As humans, we often tend to evaluate others to see who is a competitor, a friend who will help us, or a danger to us. The way we are influenced to perceive others comes not only from our own experiences but also from what we see and hear from the wider society. Many in society have repeatedly seen or heard the negative stereotype that “those with mental disorders are dangerous”. This preconception can take over our emotions and thoughts to become afraid of people with mental health issues. In truth, only a few people with mental illnesses pose a threat to society while most people are able to live and work independently.
Second, stigmatisation has a long and bleak history. In Ancient Greece, the term “stigma” described the forced branding of slaves and criminals in order to mark them. In essence, this paralleled the terrible treatment of people with a mental illness in Ancient Greece where they could be locked up, shamed and even killed. Also, during World War 2, eugenics held the belief that humanity could be improved through controlled breeding which influenced Nazi Germany to force countless sterilisations on the mentally ill and handicapped. Yet, the 20th century has revealed a change in society’s perception of mental health with medical research being conducted into common mental disorders like schizophrenia which eventually led to new and more effective anti-psychotic medication and treatments.
During my discussion with Ms Prichard on the seriousness of mental illness, she emphasised:
“It is important for young people to get help as early as possible”.
She also reminded me that everyone’s situation is unique.
Taking care of our general mental health is crucial for our wellbeing and can be achieved by getting sufficient nutrition, exercising, and having good self care practices. It is also important to know who can help and especially for adolescents to have an adult they trust around and can talk to about mental wellbeing.
If you have a friend experiencing mental health issues, it is important to be compassionate by listening, keeping in touch and showing you care.
If you want to talk about your mental health or need help, there are many options available for support, including parents, friends, GPs or School Councillors. If none of those are available or comfortable for you, organisations including SANE Australia provide support to people with mental health issues while promoting accurate representations of mental illness in the media along with reducing stigmatisation.
The following are useful support resources and services which you may access for help:
Lifeline — crisis support: 13 11 14
Kids Help Line — counselling for young people: 1800 55 1800
Alcohol and Drug Information Service — counselling for drug and alcohol problems: 1800 177 833
Beyondblue – 1300 22 4636
SANE Australia – 1800 18 7263
Australian Government Department of Health. (2018). Mental health and suicide prevention, https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/mental-health-and-suicide-prevention
National Stigma Report Card, https://nationalstigmareportcard.com.au/sites/default/files/2020-10/NSRC_Full_Report.pdf
How mental health was treated in ancient Greece, https://www.greecehighdefinition.com/blog/how-mental-illness-was-treated-in-ancient-greece
Jacobsson, L. (2002). The roots of stigmatization. World Psychiatry, 1(1), 25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1489825/
Thomas A Ban. (2007). Fifty years chlorpromazine: A historical perspective. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 3(4), 495. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2655089/
Cover image, Shutterstock