The video depicts a dishevelled man, incoherent and yelling abuse in the Perth CBD and ends with the man holding up a sign that reads ‘You wouldn’t confront people like me’, implying this man with mental illness is violent.
It’s a myth that people living with mental illness are violent. In reality, people living with a mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.
One in five Australians live with mental illness every year, with only one third seeking help from health services.
One of the key barriers to people seeking help for mental illness is stigma.
Stigma can have devastating consequences. It can reinforce the notion that they are a burden to society and that the world is better off without them. With suicide numbers at a 10-year high we must take care to ensure that people in distress get the help they need and not add to their marginalisation.
SANE Australia fully appreciates that police witness, and are involved in, profoundly distressing situations in their day-to-day work and need appropriate support.
I started working in mental health more than twenty years ago after the suicide of my young cousin on our family farm. I know that the police were the first people on the scene and that they have to respond to tragic events like this on a far too frequent basis. I have spoken firsthand to many police officers who have not got the support they need.
We absolutely need to look after the mental health of our police and take care of their welfare. But we don’t need to do that at the expense of others in the community, especially people living with mental illness.
Campaigns like this one from the WA Police Union have the potential to undo many years of work reducing the stigma, prejudice and discrimination people living with a mental illness face every day.
This video needs to be withdrawn and the real and genuine needs of police addressed in an appropriate way.
SANE Australia has a history of working closely with police. In Victoria, SANE Australia operated a successful call-back service for people with mental health issues who had been referred to SANE by the police with the individual’s consent. This helped both the individual police officers and the person with the mental health issue. SANE Australia is strongly committed to advancing the mental health and wellbeing of police officers around the country.