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Reducing stigma and discrimination for Australians living with complex mental health issues requires urgent action from governments

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Media Release: 12 October 2020

SANE Australia is calling for action at the highest level of government to reduce stigma and discrimination associated with complex mental health issues based on research released today.

The most comprehensive research of its kind in Australia, the National Stigma Report Card is the flagship project of SANE Australia’s Anne Deveson Research Centre and is conducted in partnership with the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne and supported by the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

The National Stigma Report Card is informed by the Our Turn to Speak survey, which ran between October 2019 and March 2020. This survey captured the experiences of stigma and discrimination across several life domains from almost 2,000 Australians living with complex mental health issues.

The research shows that fear of stigma and discrimination can lead people living with complex mental health issues to:

  • withdraw from those closest to them
  • not enter into relationships
  • stop seeking employment
  • not pursue educational opportunities
  • participate less in the community.

A comprehensive, national, multifaceted and centrally funded stigma-reduction program focused on changing social attitudes to complex mental health issues is needed to ensure all Australians can live long and fulfilling lives, free from stigma and discrimination.

SANE Australia Deputy CEO and Director of the Anne Deveson Research Centre, Dr Michelle Blanchard, said: “We must work together to develop and resource a comprehensive 10-year national program of work to reduce stigma and discrimination associated with complex mental health issues.

“This program of work needs to be informed by the voices of people with a lived experience of complex mental health issues to ensure training, service planning and ongoing oversight for health, social service and community services are delivered in a way that is free from stigma and discrimination.”

Of the 14 life domains explored through the survey, the top five life domains that participants said were most affected by stigma and discrimination during the past 12 months were relationships, employment, healthcare services, social media and mental healthcare services.

The research also found:

  • A total of 95.6% of all survey participants reported experiencing stigma or discrimination in their relationships during the last 12 months.
  • Of the people who answered further questions about relationships, 89.3% said they had stopped socialising as much as they would like and 87.4% had stopped getting close to others to avoid rejection because of stigma about mental health issues.
  • In the workplace, 81.5% of participants said they had avoided discussing their mental health needs and experiences at work because of stigma and 81% said they had stopped themselves from applying for employment opportunities due to fear of stigma or discrimination.
  • An average of 2% of participants said they had been treated unfairly by healthcare professionals such as GPs, nurses, paramedics, dentists and pharmacists, and an alarming 81.5% of participants asked said they had not called 000 for an ambulance or attended hospital for emergency treatment of physical health problems because of stigma about mental health issues.

Research Lead Dr Christopher Groot from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne said: “These are heartbreaking statistics.  We know that supportive carers, friends and family play a crucial role in helping a person’s mental health recovery.  Yet, these findings highlight that interpersonal stigma and discrimination is an ever-present reality for Australians living with complex mental health issues and affects them across life in real and profound ways. We’ve seen that the problem extends to widespread institutional stigma and discrimination too.”

“The findings are a testament to the strength and resilience of these Australians, who live their lives not only affected by complex mental health issues but also by pervasive stigma and discrimination about those issues.  The findings are also a rallying cry to us all to better understand, empathise and include them in our lives.”

Cameron Solnordal is a SANE Australia Peer Ambassador and Board member and has lived with the diagnosis schizophrenia for over 18 years.

Cameron believes widespread stigma and discrimination around complex mental health issues is largely due to lack of awareness, and that education, understanding and acceptance are vital to improving the lives of so many.

He said: “When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia in my early 20s there were a lot of unfortunate stereotypes surrounding the condition, which was very hard for me. It meant that I didn’t tell my workplace what was going on for fear of judgement and consequence, nor did I expect them to support me.

“People generally view schizophrenia as something negative due to how the condition is portrayed through the media and throughout society. They don’t appreciate that when managed, people living with schizophrenia can lead great lives and accomplish incredible things. This needs to change and this Report Card tells us why things need to change.”

“I am a husband, father, son, mental health advocate and creative professional who makes a valuable contribution to my community.”

Aaron Fornarino is also a SANE Australia Peer Ambassador who was first admitted to a mental health facility at the age of 14 and was eventually diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Aaron said: “I was discriminated against very early on in life when I was given my diagnosis. I was told by mental health professionals I’d be in and out of hospital for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t be able to maintain relationships, I probably wouldn’t engage in meaningful work and I would have difficulty maintaining friendships. I was 17 at the time.

“This was soul-destroying. Even though I tried my best to just nod and shake it off, hearing those words were crushing and were highly discriminatory. This was coming from a mental health team who were aware of my past issues being in government care, who struggled to navigate my way through life, only to be written off and dismissed as an unequal, unworthy member of society."

Visit www.nationalstigmareportcard.com.au

The online data explorer at www.nationalstigmareportcard.com.au/data is an interactive tool where you can compare survey results from different life domains, mental health issues and demographics. 

ENDS

 The following people are available for interview:

  • Dr Michelle Blanchard, SANE Australia Deputy CEO and Director Anne Deveson Research Centre
  • Dr Chris Groot, National Stigma Report Card Research Lead, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne
  • SANE Australia Peer Ambassadors including Cameron Solnordal and Aaron Fornarino

SANE Australia is managing all media requests.

To request an interview please contact:
Bianca Lapins, Senior PR and Media Advisor
Phone: 0439 708 381
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

About SANE Australia
SANE Australia is a national mental health charity dedicated to making a real difference in the lives of people affected by complex mental health issues through support, research and advocacy. SANE’s vision is for an Australia where people affected by complex mental health issues live long and fulfilling lives, free from stigma and discrimination.

About the Anne Deveson Research Centre
An initiative of SANE Australia, the Anne Deveson Research Centre undertakes practical research that drives policy change to produce better social outcomes for Australians affected by complex mental health issues.

About the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne
The Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne is committed to transforming the world we live in through ground-breaking research, inspiring entrepreneurship, and by providing an outstanding education that reflects the needs of our domestic and global community.

About the Paul Ramsay Foundation
The Paul Ramsay Foundation seeks to identify and partner with individuals, communities and organisations working to create an Australia where people can overcome disadvantage and realise their potential.

Last updated: 13 October 2020
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