Over the years I have worked closely with a mental health NGO on their stigma reduction campaigns. While we have made inroads with getting people to understand we all have mental health and that a person’s wellbeing is key to their physical health, how far have we come in respecting mental illness?
About 4% of people will experience a major depressive episode in a 12-month period, with 5% of women and 3% of men affected.
This week as I watched vultures of the media circle the home of James Hird as his family came to terms with a suspected overdose. As I saw meaningless live crosses from the front lawns of his family home I came to believe we still have a long way to go.
It beggars belief that news directors of any persuasion – TV, radio, print or digital – would dispatch crews to the Hird family home while the former AFL champion was hospitalised, dealing with a medical issue that is the business of he and his family and no-one else.
While there was outrage on social media that agreed with Guthrie, the truth is despite the statistics the media does not really respect mental illness.
If they did, James Hird’s wife Tania would not release a statement asking for privacy and;
particularly ask this of the media contingent currently gathered at our house.
Approximately 14 % of Australians will be affected by an anxiety disorder in any 12-month period.
3.22m Australians will suffer this year from an anxiety disorder. Will they be helped when over worked Emergency Department staff vent their anger in the media that people with mental illness keep presenting in their wards?
Hospital admissions for mental health problems were rare – less than 1% over the 12 month period.
Or when off the cuff comments are made about a person’s mental state being referred to as deranged, disturbed, crazy or weird?
More likely this is what will keep them away from seeking help.
Self stigma; has often been equated with perceived stigma, a person’s recognition that the public holds prejudice and will discriminate against them because of their mental illness label. In particular, perceived devaluation and discrimination is thought to lead to diminished self-esteem and self-efficacy.
While we judge those with a mental illness, stop for a moment and consider how they are judging themselves. This self-judgement they live with can stop them from seeking help, participating in their community or leading any quality of life.
Seeing camera crews’ camped outside a person’s home when they have had a suspected overdose gives little comfort to those coming to terms or living with a mental illness. Instead it does more than reinforce the stigma society has around mental illness; it reinforces self-stigma.
It shows no understanding and no respect for a person’s wellbeing or ability to recover.
In an interview with the ABC former AFL footballer and mental health advocate Wayne Schwass asked the media for some sensitivity with it’s reporting.
He said; “We need to be supportive, we need to empathetic, we need to stop judging people because of legitimate medical conditions.”
And that is what this is; it is a legitimate medical condition that needs time, space and privacy to heal.