Is it just me, or are we experiencing an increase in the number of people coming out and telling the world that they are suffering or previously suffered from a mental illness?
Whether it’s a sports star who has fallen from grace in the public eye or a high profile media personality having a breakdown, I believe we are seeing more and more information in the media about people suffering from mental health conditions.
So I ask the question, are we ready to make mental health a mainstream health issue or are we still hiding behind the stigma that comes with it?
From personal experience I believe that society has come a long way in the last twenty years, in particular the last 2 – 3 years. But I don’t think we are ready just yet to embrace mental illness as a mainstream health condition.
I feel if we were, we would not have publicly hounded and invaded the privacy of one of our greatest long distance swimmers during their recent time of need.
We do see a lot of talk and information on social media, but more action is needed to back it up, and in my mind actions speak louder than words. As they say, ‘People look at what you do not what you say’!
To explain my above statement about the change in the last 2 – 3 years, I need to take you back to 1997 when as a 22-year-old I made the decision to join the Queensland Police Service.
WOW, what a life changing decision, the fun, the danger, the exhilaration of being in a car chase (yes, we used to be allowed to chase criminals in cars back then, we even caught a few!), all with a ‘toughen-up she’ll be right mate’ approach to dealing with the atrocities seen sometimes on a daily basis.
The thought never entered my mind in 1997 that some 13 years later, being exposed to all the horrific events would eventually cause me to leave the service, simply because I could not take anymore. Not only that I couldn’t take anymore, but I could no longer hide my symptoms from my Police family on a daily basis.
I can vaguely recall the stigma that was attached to those who left the service due to mental illness back in the late nineties. Not much was said and they just disappeared quietly and quickly and were never heard of again.
Fast-forward to around 2008 – 2010 and I was one of those people myself. Hiding the symptoms of my mental illness firstly from myself, then my family and friends and lastly from the Police Officers I worked with every day.
The stigma attached to mental illness in and around 2010 for me personally was far different I believe to what it is now. It was pushed to the side and I don’t remember seeing much of it in the media, it also wasn’t a highly-published topic in general. It certainly wasn’t something that was high on the agenda as a cost to our workforce and economy.
When I left the Police Service I was so afraid of what people would think of me I hid my illness from my Police family. I resigned and left the job hoping no-one would ever find out and put me in that bucket, the mental health stigma bucket. If you have read my previous articles like ‘Symptoms of the Invisible Injury – PTSD’ you will know that didn’t really workout. The unhealthy stigma attached to mental health was alive and kicking.
But I have seen a distinct change over the last 2 – 3 years in Australia, in how mental health conditions are perceived. We are now consistently seeing statistics shown of how prevalent mental health conditions are in Australia, how it is affecting our economy and people in general. It is a subject that now gets considerable air-time on both TV and social media.
In 2015 a ¹report on mental health in the workplace by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) looked at the financial cost incurred when employers do not take action to manage mental health conditions in their business. It estimates the cost to Australian business is approximately $10.9 billion per year. This figure is now widely used to promote the cost to businesses who don’t look into mental health in their workplace.
In February 2017 information from the Mental Health Services in Australia (MHSA) was updated. It now advises that in ²2015 it was identified that around $8.5 billion, or $361 per person, was estimated to be spent on mental health-related services in Australia during 2014–15.
This is an increase from $343 per person (adjusted for inflation) in 2010–11 (2014–15 dollars). This is further staggering when you look back to 1997 – 1998 when I joined the Police Service and the cost was around $2.29 billion or $204 per person.
So it is clear to see that the cost of providing mental health services in Australia is increasing significantly, and that is only for those that choose to utilise government assistance. It doesn’t take into account those who suffer in silence.
One area that will help gauge if mental illness is able to be given mainstream status will be the progressive roll-out of the government’s $22 billion National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). This scheme will be a test to see if our nations decision makers have got it right. The initial signs look promising, but time will tell!
On a different note we are seeing the emergence and re-invigoration of some pretty darn good organisations such as Beyondblue, SANE Australia, Black Dog Institute, Lifeline, ReachOUT and Blue HOPE for Police Officers.
These non-for-profit organisations are having to deal with the brunt of the calls for assistance at the coalface so to speak. They are professional, caring and do a great job.
We are also seeing some great work being done by individuals in the mental health space, in an effort to break the stigma and make mental health mainstream.
Individuals like Dr Mark Cross, ³Dr Cross is senior psychiatrist at Campbelltown Hospital, where he runs the youth ward and the community team.
He featured in the ground-breaking ABC TV documentary series, Changing Minds, which followed patients and staff in the hospital’s Mental Health Unit.
He has also co-authored a book called ‘Changing Minds: The go-to Guide to Mental Health for family and friends’. Mark also sits on the board of SANE Australia.
Nick Bowditch is one of Australia’s premier speakers on a range of business topics having worked at both Facebook and Twitter. He also speaks passionately about mental health and his life long struggles with mental illness.
Nick travels Australia and the world talking about a number of topics including, how ‘My mental illness is a gift’. He also gave that talk at a TEDx conference in Mohali, India in 2016. He has also written a book called ‘Reboot Your Thinking: 28 Days to Think Different. Be Better’.
Alan Sparkes is a former New South Wales Police Officer and °one of only five five Australian heroes in the past 41 years to be awarded our highest bravery decoration and civil award, the Cross of Valour.
In January 2017, Allan was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (oAM) for service to mental health support organisations and the community. Allan has also written his own best selling book ‘The Cost of Bravery’. Allan is also an ambassador for Beyondblue.
With the assistance of these great individuals and organisations I believe we are certainly moving in the right direction.
Are we there yet? Are we ready to accept mental illness right now as a mainstream health condition and give it the positive support it needs?
As a society as a whole, I don’t quite think so, not just yet anyway. As previously mentioned I believe that we have come a long way, particularity in the last 2 – 3 years. But I think we still have some ways to go before having a mental health condition is something that every affected person feels comfortable talking about.
But this is something worth striving for, so lets keep the momentum going.
So for those of you in our community taking up the challenge to reduce the stigma associated with having a mental health condition, I thank you. Keep up the good work, I know we will get there!
Stuart Rawlins | Healthy Mind Healthy Future
Strategies to improve your Mental Health