Reducing stigma and discrimination needs urgent government action
Researchers are calling for action at the highest level of government to reduce stigma and discrimination associated with complex mental health issues based on research released today.
Led by researchers at SANE Australia’s Anne Deveson Research Centre (ADRC) and the University’s Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, the survey captured the experiences of stigma and discrimination across several life domains from almost 2000 Australians living with complex mental health issues.
The research shows that fear of stigma and discrimination can lead people living with complex mental health issues to withdraw from those closest to them, not enter into relationships and stop seeking employment. It also found people were less likely to purse educational opportunities and participate in the community.
Researchers say a comprehensive, national, multifaceted and centrally funded stigma-reduction program focused on changing social attitudes to complex mental health issues is needed to ensure all Australians can live long and fulfilling lives, free from stigma and discrimination.
“We must work together to develop and resource a comprehensive 10-year national program of work to reduce stigma and discrimination associated with complex mental health issues,” SANE Australia Deputy CEO and ADRC Director Dr Michelle Blanchard said.
“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.”
Of the 14 life domains explored, the top five that participants said were most affected by stigma and discrimination during the past 12 months were relationships, employment, healthcare services, social media and mental healthcare services.
The research also found:
- A total of 95.6 per cent of all survey participants reported experiencing stigma or discrimination in their relationships during the last 12 months
- Of those who discussed relationships, 89.3 per cent said they had stopped socialising as much as they would like and 87.4 per cent had stopped getting close to others to avoid rejection because of stigma about mental health issues
- In the workplace, 81.5 per cent of participants said they had avoided discussing their mental health needs and experiences at work because of stigma and 81 per cent said they had stopped applying for jobs due to fear of stigma or discrimination
- An average of 87.2 per cent of participants said healthcare professionals such as GPs, nurses, paramedics, dentists and pharmacists had treated them unfairly, and an alarming 81.5 per cent said they had not called 000 for an ambulance or attended hospital for emergency treatment of physical health problems due to stigma about mental health issues.
“These are heart-breaking statistics,” University of Melbourne research lead Dr Christopher Groot said.
“We know that supportive carers, friends and family play a crucial role in helping a person’s mental health recovery. Yet, 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. We’ve seen that the problem extends to widespread institutional stigma and discrimination too.
“The findings are a testament to the strength and resilience of these Australians, who live their lives not only affected by complex mental health issues but also by pervasive stigma and discrimination about those issues. They are also a rallying cry to us all to better understand, empathise and include them in our lives.”
Cameron Solnordal is a SANE Australia Peer Ambassador and board member and has lived with the diagnosis schizophrenia for over 18 years.
Cameron believes widespread stigma and discrimination around complex mental health issues is largely due to lack of awareness, and that education, understanding and acceptance are vital to improving the lives of so many.
“When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia in my early 20s there were a lot of unfortunate stereotypes surrounding the condition, which was very hard for me,” Cameron 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.
“People generally view schizophrenia as something negative due to how the condition is portrayed through the media and throughout society. 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.
“I am a husband, father, son, mental health advocate and creative professional who makes a valuable contribution to my community.”
The National Stigma Report Card is the flagship project of SANE Australia’s Anne Deveson Research Centre, and is conducted in partnership with the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne. It is supported by the Paul Ramsay Foundation.
Visit nationalstigmareportcard.com.auto find out more about the research and to hear real stories from real people impacted by stigma and discrimination. #StigmaAndMe
The online data explorer is an interactive tool where you can compare survey results from different life domains, mental health issues and demographics.