Building social connection

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jack heath ceoThere are 690,000 Australians living with complex mental illness. And for every one of these people there will be at least five family members, friends, or other people who are also affected.

This equates to more than four million Australians grappling with the challenges of complex mental illness.

While as a nation we have made advances in reducing stigma around mild to moderate mental health conditions, there is still a great deal of work required to help those at the severe end of the spectrum.

This is why SANE launched Thriving Communities. The project aims to build social connection and improve mental health outcomes for Australians affected by complex mental illness. The project features eight inspiring Australians who shared their story with a view to help others.

Research shows that far too often people affected by complex mental illness do not seek the help they need because they consider themselves a burden, or they are ashamed of their situation. This is reflected in Australia's suicide figures. People living with bipolar, borderline personality disorder, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders and PTSD are 10 to 45 times more likely than the general population to take their own lives.

While research shows that living in a rural or regional area does not result in a higher risk of mental illness, when problems do occur there are fewer supports. Lack of services, a culture of self reliance, stigma and often having limited access to a busy general practitioner are all major barriers.

We know that people living in rural and regional areas access services at a far lower rate than people in the big cities.

This is why the primary focus of the Thriving Communities campaign is encouraging people living in rural and regional areas to connect with each other on the SANE Forums, an anonymous and professionally moderated service accessible 24 hours a day.

We are only two weeks into the campaign which is targeting 155 communities but we have had record numbers of people signing up to the forums along with a major lift in the percentage of people accessing the SANE Forums from outside the capital cities – now just over a third of all visitors. We are partnering with the University of Sydney to evaluate what are the best ways to get people to the SANE Forums and what are the mental health outcomes from participation in the forums. By year end, we should have some invaluable insights into how we can better tap into the huge reservoir of peer support that exists across all our communities.

We know that safe, online communities like the SANE Forums can offer hope and support to people who might not otherwise receive it. They also help reduce stigma and encourage help-seeking behaviour.

The SANE Forums enable people who have grappled with complex mental illness to offer something special to others just starting their journey. One person’s struggle can offer hope and meaning to so many others. At a time of limited funding for mental health, where scaling-up existing models of one-to-one care would cost billions of dollars, the SANE Forums are an effective solution.

We must do more to build a world where people affected by complex mental illness have stronger social connections and get the help they need. We need to look for ways to reach people who are socially and geographically isolated and break down the barriers preventing them from speaking up and seeking help.

Jack Heath



Last updated: 29 March 2018

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