Bringing mental illness into the light – reducing stigma and discrimination

Posted in: Blog | 03 Oct 2017

Australia has come a long way to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. The amazing success of mental health events have continued to raise awareness and encourage people to both seek and offer help from family and friends.

Unfortunately, stigma and its associated discrimination is still a major hurdle to overcome when it comes to mental illness. This Mental Health Week, 8-14 October, Mental Health Australia is calling on all Australians to further reduce stigma by making a promise to see mental health in a more positive light. Their ‘Do you see what I see?’ campaign challenges perceptions on mental illness and aims to reduce stigma by promoting a positive approach to tackling an issue that affects one in five Australians.

There is plenty of research that shows the way mental illness is commonly represented has a considerable detrimental effect on how people feel about themselves. Images designed to portray mental illness, such as grey photos of despairing people with their head in their hands, are overused and create barriers for people seeking help for recovery and treatment.

The language and imagery used by the media can be sensational and stereotypical, with violent behaviours often linked exclusively to mental illness. A University of Melbourne study examined 630 Australian online and print news media stories citing “schizophrenia” over a one-year period and found violence featured in 47% of stories and 46% were assessed as stigmatising. People identified as schizophrenic were disproportionately reported as male and as perpetrators, rather than victims of violence.

Children are particularly exposed to these messages – a UK study which sampled one week of children’s television found that almost half of  the hundreds of children’s programs contained one or more references to mental illness. Terms such as “crazy”, “mad” and “losing your mind” were commonly used to denote losing control. Six characters were consistently portrayed as mentally ill and were almost totally devoid of positive characteristics.

With this type of stigma being perpetuated so systematically, people living with mental illness are well aware of community attitudes and how the media can influence them. People with a mental illness may be labelled as “scary” ‘or “incompetent”. Such stigmatising labels cause enormous pain and suffering, with many saying that stigma can actually be harder to cope with than the symptoms of the illness itself.

That’s why it’s up to us as individuals to be proactive in seeing things differently if we are to see real reductions in the rate of mental illness affecting Australians. It’s up to us to see mental health through the eyes of a family member, friend, or simply those people in the community who don’t have the support they need.

That’s why CHARLTON BROWN® is getting behind the #mentalhealthpromise this Mental Health Week to challenge Australians to look at mental health in a positive colourful light, instead of the negative grey depiction we’re used to. We encourage all of our followers to get behind the #mentalhealthpromise as well by sharing their support on social media.

For more information on Mental Health Week and World Mental Health Day, please visit www.1010.org.au

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