Labels are for Fashion


Tall, short, medium build, dark hair, blonde hair, green eyes, blue eyes…. There are so many ways you can describe yourself. Usually we start with our physical appearance then it doesn’t take long before we start listing the more personal traits.

Shy, outgoing, opinionated, easy-going, flaky.

It helps us find simple ways for people to know who we are. It is like our very own ‘elevator pitch’, that quick quirky sentence that is supposed to say everything about you.

We are complex creatures but in our time poor world no one really wants to hear about the complexities of who we are or how we got here. It’s that reason why admitting you may have had a mental illness or are living with one is fraught with problems. In one word you not only describe a medical condition but inadvertently sum up your life experiences in a 2 – 3 syllable word.

That one word then brings with it assumptions, prejudices and worse still stigma. Those brave enough to say it out loud know this, they also know if they don’t speak up then mental illness and  mental health will continue to be misunderstood.

On Friday the Mental Health Coalition of SA marked Mental Health Week with the releasing of balloons in Victoria Square. While it made for a beautiful image, it was also a symbolic gesture to let go of the stigma of mental illness.

Stigma comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be the obvious shunning of someone either physically or personally , or it could be discreet by creating excuses not to see or be around someone. Either way it is not helping that person with a lived experience of mental illness, nor is it helping us as a community to come together and understand it more.

The 2013 National Mental Health Commissions Contributing Life study uncovered;

Up to 49% of Australians would avoid someone with a mental illness.

37% of Australians wouldn’t employ someone with chronic schizophrenia and 23% wouldn’t employ someone with depression.

About 60% of family members report experiencing negative, hurtful and offensive attitudes from the public.

65% of people who have experienced a mental health problem in the last 12 months have not sought help for that problem.

A quarter of 16–24 year olds have experienced symptoms of a mental health problem in the past 12 months.

And about 50% of mental health problems emerge by the mid-teens, and 75% by age 25.

This Mental Health Week our national broadcaster is tackling misconceptions about mental illness and health through its Mental As campaign. For this to be effective we all need to remember when the week is over, that mental health is for life.

The stigma behind mental illness stops with all of us. So when we next hear our family, friends, colleagues, community leaders and media perpetrating stigma, it’s our responsibility to speak up and make it stop. Because labels are for fashion, not for individuals.


This post was published on mindshare for Mental Health Week.

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