'Things need to change': Widespread complex mental illness discrimination revealed
12 October 2020 at 5:22 pm
A national program to change attitudes around complex mental illness is needed to ensure all Australians can live free from stigma, SANE Australia says.
When Cameron Solnordal was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early 20s, he didn’t tell his workplace out of fear of losing his job.
“There were a lot of unfortunate stereotypes surrounding the condition, which was very hard for me,” Solnordal said.
“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.”
And Solnordal’s experience is far from unique.
In a new report from SANE Australia, which analyses the survey results of 2,000 people living with complex mental illness about their experiences of stigma and discrimination across several life domains.
It found that more than 80 per cent of participants said they had avoided discussing their mental health needs and experiences at work because of stigma. A similar number said they had stopped themselves from applying for employment opportunities due to fear of stigma or discrimination.
When it came to relationships, nearly 96 per cent of survey participants reported experiencing stigma or discrimination, close to 90 per cent said they had stopped socialising as much as they would like, and 87 per cent said they had stopped getting close to others to avoid rejection because of stigma about mental health issues.
Healthcare was found to be no better. Nearly 90 per cent of respondents said they had been treated unfairly by GPs, nurses, paramedics, dentists and pharmacists, and an alarming 81.5 per cent of participants said they had not called triple zero for an ambulance or attended hospital for emergency treatment of physical health problems because of stigma about mental health issues.
The National Stigma Report Card is the flagship project of SANE Australia’s Anne Deveson Research Centre, conducted in partnership with the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne and supported by the Paul Ramsay Foundation.
SANE Australia deputy CEO and director of the Anne Deveson Research Centre Dr Michelle Blanchard, said the report card highlighted the immediate need to develop and resource a 10-year national program that focused on changing social attitudes to 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,” Blanchard said.
Research lead Dr Christopher Groot said that while supportive carers, friends and family played a crucial role in helping a person’s mental health recovery, stigma and discrimination meant that many people living with complex mental illness went without this support.
“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,” Groot said.
“The findings are also a rallying cry to us all to better understand, empathise and include them in our lives.”
Solnordal, who is a SANE Australia peer ambassador and board member, said that education, understanding and acceptance were vital to improving the lives of many.
“People generally view schizophrenia as something negative due to how the condition is portrayed through the media and throughout society,” Solordal said.
“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.”
See the full report here.