The distress and discrimination many people with a mental illness experience because of stigma associated with their illness is just as widespread as it was five years ago, according to new research by SANE Australia.
Three quarters (73%) of the 400+ people recently surveyed by the national mental health charity said they had experienced stigma or discrimination in the last 12 months because of their mental illness. A survey by SANE in 2006 found that 74% of respondents said they had personal experience of stigma.
‘Damaging stereotypes associated with mental illness cause enormous distress and it is really unacceptable that as we approach 2012 so many people still have to combat stigma and discrimination which stops them from living full and satisfying lives,’ says the Executive Director of SANE Australia, Barbara Hocking.
Encouragingly, says Ms Hocking, more than three in four (77%) people described media coverage of depression in the last two years as ‘good’ or ‘fair’.
However, the majority of respondents described coverage of less common mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder during the same period, as ‘poor’.
‘The more responsible media reporting of depression has encouraged people to start talking about it, to seek help and to feel less excluded,’ Ms Hocking explains.
‘Most people get their information about mental illness from the media and so the way the media portrays these complex issues is important in shaping community understanding and acceptance of people affected,‘ explains the Executive Director.
Stigma is hurtful and harmful - it stops people with a mental illness from seeking help. It can lead to discrimination when people with a mental illness seek housing, education and even work. It can also lead to feelings of hopelessness and suicide.
‘Many people report that the stigma they experience is as distressing as the symptoms of their illness,’ says Ms Hocking.
‘We must increase our efforts to educate Australians about illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and support and encourage the media to report responsibly. We also need to hear personal stories directly from people who are affected.
‘Mental illness is common. With one in five of us affected every year, reducing stigma is an important issue for everyone,’ Ms Hocking adds.
SANE Australia offers a wide range of resources to assist people diagnosed with mental illness and their families. Call the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) or visit sane.org for more information.
As part of continuing efforts to reduce stigma, SANE Australia, invites the community to check out Snapshots, (www.sane.org/snapshots), which uses interviews and photographs to get to know ordinary – yet also extraordinary – Australians, who reveal what it is like to experience mental illness from the inside, and share their honest insights into recovery and the importance of connections with other people.
SANE media contacts
Media Manager - Robyn Thompson
Media Advisor - Jeremy Little
03 9682 5933
0414 427 291