Mental illness and stigma

In any one year, one in five Australian’s experience a mental illness and almost half of them do not seek help.

Despite the high prevalence of mental illness, substantial stigma still surrounds it.

Stigma results in experiences and feelings of shame, blame, hopelessness and distress. It causes people to hide symptoms of mental illness, it isolates them and excludes them and results in people with a mental illness being treated differently to the rest of society.

Stigma also worsens a person’s illness and leads to a reluctance to seek help.

If you or someone you know has a problem, you can contact the Mental Health Services Helpline for advice. The Mental Health Services Helpline is a Free Call number that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Contact: 1800 332 388.

Just as with any illness, seeking help early can prevent mental illness from progressing and speed recovery.

What can you do to help someone with a mental illness?

People often respond negatively when confronted with a friend’s mental ill-health. The reality is that mental illness is no different from physical illness.  If a friend told you about a physical illness you would most likely express sympathy and concern, offer your support and reassurance, and feel confident that your friend’s condition would improve with treatment. Behaving the same way if someone tells you about their mental health problem can really help.

One of the most important things to remember about mental ill-health is that people can and do recover.

Don’t shy away from the issue just because it makes you feel awkward - ask questions, listen to their ideas and most importantly, ask them what you can do to help.

People with mental health problems often feel excluded, lonely and alone. Reassure your friend that you still care about them and include them in your everyday plans – going out to lunch, going to the cinema or taking a jog. If your friend doesn’t feel able to accept, reassure and re-invite them without being over bearing

Remind your friend that mental-ill health is treatable. Find out if your friend is getting the care they need and want. If not, offer your help in identifying and getting the right kind of care.

Help your friend by understanding and being there for them throughout the course of their illness.

Interaction with other people is vital to human development. Social relationships and networks can act as protective factors against the onset or recurrence of mental illness and enhance recovery from mental disorders. The causes of mental disorders are complex but we all have a role to play in recovery.