SANE has been around for almost 40 years, providing support, services and connection to the million or so Australians affected by severe or complex mental ill health. With minimal government support, we deliver telephone and online counselling, guided recovery support and peer group forums that are accessible to any Australian when and where they need them.
This community that we represent face extraordinary amounts of stigma and discrimination on a day-to-day basis. Stigma impacts employment, housing and education opportunities. It causes exclusion and social isolation. It reinforces the culture of silence and shame that stops people seeking help when they need it. It contributes greatly to the reduced life expectancy for those living with complex mental ill health. Arguably, it is also stigma that is stopping governments from investing in better care and support services.
This is why we publicly and proactively call out stigma when it arises. We’re proud to say that SANE was one of the first organisations in the world to do this, and it was one of the main reasons that SANE was founded by highly respected journalist Anne Deveson and her friend and colleague, Marg Leggatt. Both had sons with mental ill health, and both felt compelled to change the status quo.
So it is somewhat ironic, and a little perplexing, that an Australian media personality recently used his public platform to suggest that SANE is engaged in ‘a broader type of mania sweeping the western world, offence-mania, where people devote fruitless and counter-productive hours to scouring the public discourse for anything which may cause distress.’
This opinion belittles the experiences of a large number of Australians and shows a worrying level of ignorance about mental health more broadly.
The way mental ill health and suicide is presented in the media strongly influences public stigma. This is not opinion, this is not new age ‘wokism’, this is a proven, scientific fact that has been strongly reinforced by global health experts.
The StigmaWatch program, where SANE identifies harmful media content then proactively reaches out to media professionals to suggest less stigmatising alternatives, has been shown to be highly effective.
The program is strongly valued by both the media professionals we engage with and the community that we represent. It is based in research evidence and delivered in partnership with Mindframe, an Everymind program.
But Stigmawatch is just one small part of what SANE does to improve the lives of those living with mental ill health.
We provide direct support to more than 60,000 Australians who contact us each year. We have a million visitors to our website seeking information and online resources. We represent the needs of this community to Government on a daily basis. This is an incredible feat for a national charity with less than 100 staff.
Since COVID, we’ve struggled to access the ongoing funding required to meet the growing demand for our services. Sadly, most of the people we support have no other support options available.
As state and federal mental health system reform processes trudge slowly on, we’ve had to rely heavily on charitable donations to fill the gaps and keep life-saving services like our telephone Helpline up and running.
To suggest that SANE is engaging in a bit of light ‘offence-mania’ because we have nothing better to do is offensive. To insinuate that we are not doing the job we’re meant to do is unconscionable.
We know that most of the Australian media are supportive and understanding. We see you.
But to those who don’t understand our mission, we offer you this. Meet with us. Ask us any question you like about what we’re doing to support those living with complex mental health needs. Have a coffee with one of our many Peer Ambassadors around the country and learn first-hand how the stigmatising words you throw around so flippantly can impact their daily life.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Access or learn more about SANE helpline and support services here