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Mental health group calls for highest government action

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SANE Australia is calling for the highest government action to reduce stigma and discrimination associated with complex mental health issues based on research released.

The National Stigma Report Card is the flagship project of SANE Australia’s Anne Deveson Research Centre and is conducted in partnership with the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne and supported by the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

The National Stigma Report Card is informed by the Our Turn to Speak survey, which ran between October 2019 and March 2020. This survey captured the experiences of stigma and discrimination across several life domains from almost 2,000 Australians living with complex mental health issues.

The research shows that fear of stigma and discrimination can lead people living with complex mental health issues tend to withdraw from those closest to them,

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do not enter into new relationships, stop actively seeking employment, do not pursue educational opportunities and participate less in community activities.

A comprehensive, national, multifaceted and centrally funded stigma-reduction program focused on changing social attitudes to complex mental health issues is needed to ensure all Australians can live long and fulfilling lives, free from stigma and discrimination.

SANE Australia Deputy CEO and Director of the Anne Deveson Research Centre, Dr Michelle Blanchard, said: “We must work together to develop and resource a comprehensive 10-year national program of work to reduce stigma and discrimination associated with complex mental health issues” Deveson said.

“This program of work needs to be informed by the voices of people with a lived experience of complex mental health issues to ensure training, service planning and ongoing oversight for health, social service and community services are delivered in a way that is free from stigma and discrimination” she said.

Of the 14 life domains explored through the survey, the top five life domains that participants said were most affected by stigma and discrimination during the past 12 months were relationships, employment, healthcare services, social media and mental healthcare services.

The research also found that 95% of participants experienced discrimination in their relationship during the last 12 month. 89.3% said that they had stopped socialising as much and 87.4% said that it is to avoid rejection. 81.5% of participants do not discuss their mental health at work due to stigma while 81% stopped applying for employment opportunities because of mental health issues.

Research Lead Dr Christopher Groot from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, the University of Melbourne said:“These are heartbreaking statistics.  We know that supportive carers, friends, and family play a crucial role in helping a person’s mental health recovery.  Yet, these findings highlight that interpersonal stigma and discrimination is an ever-present reality for Australians living with complex mental health issues and affects them across life in real and profound ways.”

“The findings are a testament to the strength and resilience of these Australians, who live their lives not only affected by complex mental health issues but also by pervasive stigma and discrimination about those issues.  The findings are also a rallying cry to us all to better understand, empathize, and include them in our lives.” he said

Cameron Solnordal is also a Peer Ambassador and Board member and has lived with the diagnosis schizophrenia for over 18 years. Cameron believes widespread stigma and discrimination around complex mental health issues is largely due to a lack of awareness and government action, and that education, understanding, and acceptance are vital to improving the lives of so many.

“When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia in my early 20s there were a lot of unfortunate stereotypes surrounding the condition, which was very hard for me. It meant that I didn’t tell my workplace what was going on for fear of judgment and consequence, nor did I expect them to support me.” Cameron said.

“People generally view schizophrenia as something negative due to how the condition is portrayed through the media and throughout society. They don’t appreciate that when managed, people living with schizophrenia can lead great lives and accomplish incredible things. This needs to change and this Report Card tells us why things need to change.” he said. “I am a husband, father, son, mental health advocate, and creative professional who makes a valuable contribution to my community.” he added.

Aaron Fornarino, a Peer Ambassador,  was first admitted to a mental health facility at the age of 14 and was eventually diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

“I was discriminated against very early on in life when I was given my diagnosis. I was told by mental health professionals I’d be in and out of the hospital for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t be able to maintain relationships, I probably wouldn’t engage in meaningful work and I would have difficulty maintaining friendships. I was 17 at the time.” Fornarino said.

“This was soul-destroying. Even though I tried my best to just nod and shake it off, hearing those words were crushing and were highly discriminatory. This was coming from a mental health team who were aware of my past issues being in government care, who struggled to navigate my way through life, only to be written off and dismissed as an unequal, unworthy member of society.” he said.

SANE Australia has called for government action based on a study which shows that on average of 2% said that they were treated unfairly by GPs, nurses, paramedics, dentist and, pharmacists. And an alarming 81.5% of participants said that they do not contact emergency services for an ambulance or go to the hospital for emergency treatment because of the fear of stigma and discrimination.

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