The deadly stigma of mental health

mental health dayThe number of deaths by suicide is at its highest rate in a decade, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

In 2015, more than 3000 Australians lost their lives to suicide, with Tasmania experiencing the largest rate of increase from 2014.

For every death from suicide, an estimated 60 people are directly affected.

World Mental Health Day takes place on 10 October and is an opportunity to reflect on what communities, families and governments can do to provide greater support for people living with a mental illness.

In her moderator’s reflection this month, Rev Sharon Hollis discusses the need to destigmatise mental illness. Historically, mental illness has been perceived by some faith communities as arising from spiritual weakness. This contributes to the sense of loneliness and isolation that people with mental illness, and their families, experience.

Ms Hollis will attend a series of free mental health lunches and services this week, where she will share her personal experiences caring for a family member with a mental illness. She will visit Hampton Park Uniting Church on 11 October and Clarence Uniting Church in Hobart on 12 October, along with a worship service at Hope Springs on 13 October.

Places are still available and you can RSVP to secure your spot:

mental health week events

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15-44 and is three times more common for males than females. However, the number of women who end their lives is increasing, especially for those aged 15-19.

Writing in the Huffington Post, prominent youth mental health advocate and former Australian of the Year Prof Pat McGorry said tackling stigma must be matched with ongoing government action.

“Mental health care across the nation is rationed like no other aspect of health care, and is marooned at around 7 per cent of the health budget. Way too low,” Prof McGorry wrote.

“In the Commonwealth-funded world of primary care, if you are depressed but not recovered after 10 sessions of therapy arranged via your GP, well… that’s it for the year.

“We would be appalled if chemotherapy for cancer were rationed in this way.”

The Queensland synod has prepared resources to assist church members who wish to offer support to people with a mental illness.

While the booklet is aimed at a Queensland audience, it also includes general tips on how to encourage conversations about mental health:

  • Take time to talk with a person who is living with mental health issues. Listening itself can be healing.
  • Always respect confidentiality and don’t share conversations or even the fact that the person has mental health issues unless they have given permission to do so.
  • Treat people with mental illness and their families with compassion, not condescension. Most don’t want pity, just understanding and support.
  • Encourage the person to sleep well, eat well and exercise if they can.
  • When you are supporting someone with mental health issues, it is important that you look after your own health as well. If you are struggling, it may help to talk to someone in a similar situation.

If you or anyone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au, the Suicide Help Line (Victoria) on 1300 651 251 or the Mental Health Services Helpline (Tasmania) on 1800 332 388.

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