Peer support remains a largely untapped resource across the community and is proving to be a cost effective way for individuals and carers to build connections and work through their shared experience of emotional and psychological pain.
One of the faces of the campaign, mother of three Denielle Campbell from regional Victoria, has willingly shared her family’s story of major depression and suicide in the hope that it can help others who may of experienced similar things.
“From the outside my life looks pretty idyllic,” Denielle says.
“But as with many Australians, I have faced my fair share of demons, with mental illness playing a huge role in my family since my Dad’s suicide 15 years ago.
“The impact his death had on my family, the small town where we lived and then on myself was enormous.
“As a grieving family we experienced all of the usual emotions, including frustration and anger, as every time we had tried to get help and support for Dad we hit a brick wall.
“Suicide can divide a community and looking back we probably didn’t receive the support we needed to heal, which ultimately contributed to my own battle with mental illness.
“I knew it wasn’t just a bad day or a bad week. I was crippled by depression and felt like I was being sucked down to the bottom of the ocean.
“Eventually one day it got too much, and I too attempted to take my life.”
Denielle is now in a place where she wants to share her experience in the hope that it can help others.
“My experience has made me acutely aware of the stigma and lack of understanding that still surrounds the issue of mental health in this country,” Denielle says.
“There is still a resounding attitude of ‘you’ll be right mate’ when it comes to dealing with mental illness and I don’t think people understand how debilitating it can be.
“As a society, we need to break down the stigma and say it’s ok to have a mental illness, that it doesn’t make you weak or less of a person.
“Being able to connect with others who are going through a similar thing – just like people do when they are having chemotherapy or battling other illnesses – is crucial.
“Mental health is complex, and it can often be frustrating and isolating not being able to get the understanding and help you need from family and friends. Using something like the SANE online forums is a fantastic way to connect with a supportive, non-judgemental community and actively ask questions and seek advice at any time of the day or night.”
SANE CEO Jack Heath said there 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, work colleagues or other people they know who are directly affected by their condition. This equates to more than four million Australians grappling with the challenges of complex mental illness on a daily basis.
“While as a nation we have made real advances in reducing stigma around mild to moderate mental health conditions, there is still a great deal of work to be done to help those at the more severe end of the spectrum,” Jack Heath says.
“Research shows that far too often people affected by complex mental illness do not seek the help they so desperately need because they consider themselves a burden, or because they are ashamed of their situation.
“These feelings are far greater than for the general population and it’s reflected in suicide figures - people living with bipolar, borderline personality disorder, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders and PTSD are 10 to 45 times more likely 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 mental health problems do occur, there are less supports on the ground to help people in their time of need.
“Lack of services, a culture of self reliance, stigma and often having limited access to a busy general practitioner are all major barriers for people battling complex mental illness in rural and regional Australia,” Jack Heath says.
“We know that safe, online communities like the SANE Online Forums can offer hope and support to people who might not otherwise receive it. They also help reduce stigma and discrimination and encourage help-seeking behaviour.
“At a time of limited funding for mental health, scaling-up existing models of one-to-one care would add many billions of dollars to the health bill.
“The SANE Online Forums enable people who have grappled with complex mental illness for many years to offer something special to others just starting off on the journey – now one person’s struggle can offer hope and meaning to so many others.”
Throughout the campaign SANE is encouraging Australians to connect with each other on the SANE Online Forums, an anonymous and professionally moderated service accessible 24 hours a day.
“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,” Jack Heath added.
“We need to look for ways to reach people who are socially and geographically isolated and break down the barriers that prevent them from speaking up and seeking help."
Thriving Communities launches across tv, radio and online in 155 communities nationwide from Monday 11 July. For a list of cities and towns included in the campaign click here.