[Picture: Gemma Correll]
My choice to closely analyse and investigate the issue of Mental Health was an obvious one with staggering statistics revealing that 50 percent of Australians suffer mental illness at some point in their lives. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44, with almost seven people taking their life every day. It is without a doubt an Australian adolescent has encountered mental illness on either a personal note or second hand. With statistics revealing the high prevalence of mental illness within today’s society, we are simply forced to question the ongoing stigma that surrounds and suffocates mental health.
The WHO has proposed to declassify transgender identity as a mental disorder in hope to reduce the stigma towards those that associate themselves as being transgender. Shayla Love, for The Sydney Morning Herald, addresses the reasons and potential implications of removing transgender identity from the classification of mental disorders in WHO’s forthcoming ICD (International Classification of Diseases). Through the close consideration of a study released by the Lancet Psychiatry journal, Love acknowledges new evidence supporting the change. Geoffrey Reed, co-author of the study, is referenced by Love: “A condition is designated as a mental illness when the very fact that you have it causes distress and dysfunction.” The study argues that this isn’t the case with transgender identity, but is actually external factors including societal stigma, violence and prejudice that equate to the suffering.
Love makes the connection between said issue and past controversies with The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the psychiatric disorder guidebook, once including Homosexuality and Hysteria as mental illnesses. So why not remove the classification all together, as was done with homosexuality? Because one of the primary incentives within the change is geared towards improving transgendered people’s access to health care. Love argues that the risks associated with total removal of the transgender classification out way the destigmatisation that would be equated.
With reference to varying reliable and factual sources, Love accounts for both the positives and negatives associated with the WHO’s proposed change. With this said, I believe such declassification is not addressing the biggest problems that trans people are facing. The issue is not a semantic definition, but real issues like violence, poverty, homelessness, and housing discrimination. These are all the unpleasant realities in which mental illness sufferers face.
Matt Hartman, for the Huffington Post, draws on his personal encounters with a schizophrenic homeless man. In comparison to other articles I have come across, consisting of the factual, statistical jargon that is often associated with mental health subject matter, Hartman writes in an emotive way encouraging empathy and compassion within the reader. Even the name of the article; “Why Mental Illness Saddens ME” makes it immediately personal.
What intrigues me most about Hartman’s article is the way in which he compares the mentally ill with “most of us”. In reference to the homeless man Hartman writes “This man — who is ostracized and lacking the love that most of us have — has more love in his heart than most people.” It is apparent Hartman feels extremely passionate about the issue of mental health and certain societal behaviours, even prior to mentioning his mother whom is also schizophrenic.
By making the correlation between mental illness sufferers and “the rest of us”, Hartman argues that for destigmatisation to successfully take place, society must learn how to treat people who are different than us, especially those who suffer from severe mental illnesses, and ultimately “like human beings: to make sure they’re clothed, housed and fed. To make them feel like their lives aren’t meaningless.” As opposed to the previously discussed article, Hartman proposes we focus not on categorising but normalising.
[Picture: Gemma Correll]
Bettina Friedrich, an academic researcher and affiliate of the Global Anti Stigma Alliance (GASA), discusses mental health stigma as an issue in our society and the consequential factors in relation to terrorism. Friedrich conducts extensive research into recent terror attacks, in particular those based in Germany and more specifically Munich. The German Press’ translation of the Munich attack, which was inherently thought as a terrorist attack, to be now considered and broadcasted as perpetrated by someone suffering from mental health issues. Friedrich lets us discover the media’s laudable attempt to avoid stigmatisation of people from Muslim backgrounds in association to terrorism. This then comes at a cost with media and officials quickly speculating on “mental health problems” as the probable cause of an attack when information was scarce.
Such stigma surrounding mental health is apparent as Friedrich reveals several articles with trivialising headlines such as “Munich Maniac”. In reference to several studies Friedrich also touches on the ways in which society overestimates the capacity for aggression and violence in those with mental health problems. An interesting point made in Friedrich’s article is the revelation of gender and ethnicity as predominant predictors rather than mental health diagnoses. In saying so, terror tendencies and mental health problems must not be mutually exclusive.
While it is crucial media continue to carefully avoid fear-mongering and ethnic or religious stereotypes, journalists need also be aware of how they are reporting on mental health. As Friedrich writes “Stigmatising reporting of an incident with high public attention can increase stigma and quickly undo positive effects that years of educational campaigning around mental health might have achieved.”
[Picture: Gemma Correll]
Vivian Nunez, for Forbes Magazine, focuses on Dior Vargas’ de-stigmatising of mental health conversations for people of colour and most importantly increasing overall equality within the mental health sector. Nunez focuses on recounting the stories of trailblazing Latinas. All opinions expressed by Forbes Magazine contributors are their own. Nunez highlights that “36% of Hispanics with depression received care versus 60% of Whites,” explained by Dior Vargas, the Creator behind the People of Colour & Mental Illness Photo Project. Vargas, a Latina mental health advocate, shares her experience with Nunez in relation to using social media as a platform to de-stigmatise mental health conversations for people of colour.
Nunez comments on the array of contributing factors that “create a high barrier of entry” when addressing mental illness for people of colour. As well as the obvious stigma which surrounds mental health as an entirety, people of colour also encounter the financial burden of treatment, cultural and familial expectations, and whether the individual feels supported in their place of employment. Both Nunez and Vargas agree that in order for mental health and culture to coexist those sufferers must fully understand their culture and receive the help and care they deserve from within their culture.“If we want our family to have a better quality of life, then mental health has to be a part of that” says Vargas.
Williams agrees with the revelations of the report discussing the fundamental need for a holistic approach when addressing the health and wellbeing of young people with mental illness including a focus on their physical and sexual health. The report shows that such limited focus can cause a vicious cycle of drug and alcohol abuse as said sufferers lack an educated understanding of the physical health effects.
It is without a doubt the mental health sector needs to be addressed as a priority in Australia’s healthcare system. The need for preventative measures and intervention is dire. Williams agrees with the report in arguing that a greater understanding of the physical health effects of mental illness would provide the foundation on which public health policies, prevention programs and increased early intervention could be developed.
Love, S, 2016. The WHO says being transgender is a mental illness. But that could soon change. The Sydney Morning Herald, [Online]. JULY 29 2016, Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/world/the-who-says-being-transgender-is-a-mental-illness-but-that-could-soon-change-20160728-gqg7kv.html [Accessed 8 August 2016].
Hartman, M, 2016. Why Mental Illness Saddens Me. The Huffington Post, [Online]. The Blog, Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matt-hartman/why-mental-illness-sadden_b_11311084.html [Accessed 8 August 2016].
Friedrich, B, 2016. From act of terrorism to mental health symptom: we’re shifting blame but at what cost?. The Conversation, [Online]. Health + Medicine, 1. Available at: http://theconversation.com/from-act-of-terrorism-to-mental-health-symptom-were-shifting-blame-but-at-what-cost-63060 [Accessed 8 August 2016].
Nunez, V, 2016. Dior Vargas Is Taking the Cultural Stigma Out of Mental Illness. Forbes Magazine, [Online]. women@forbes, 1. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/viviannunez/2016/07/26/dior-vargas-is-taking-the-cultural-stigma-out-of-mental-illness/#5d6952b17fa3 [Accessed 8 August 2016].
Williams, W, 2016. Physical Health Neglected For Young People with Mental Illness. ProBono Australia, [Online]. Thursday, 30th June 2016, 1. Available at:https://probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2016/06/physical-health-neglected-young-people-mental-illness/[Accessed 8 August 2016].