Uniting Church and community service leaders have pledged to reduce mental health stigma during a session at the UnitingCare Australia Leaders Conference.
The two-day conference, held in Sydney from 10 to 11 October, brings together leaders from the Uniting Church and its community service network.
The opening day of the conference coincided with World Mental Health Day. UnitingCare Australia national director Claerwen Little invited attendees to make a mental health promise and post it on social media using the hashtag #MentalHealthPromise.
The social media posts are part of a wider campaign organised by Mental Health Australia for World Mental Health Day.
An estimated one in five Australians are affected by mental illness, but many do not seek help because of stigma.
In her Mental Health Week video message, Moderator Sharon Hollis said almost every Uniting Church congregation has people who had or are experiencing mental illness.
During the conference, the ABC’s Tony Jones hosted a Q&A session on the theme of a ‘fair and just society’.
The panel featured Uniting CEO Paul Linossier, Uniting Church President Stuart McMillan, Jesuit priest Frank Brennan, Australian Council of Social Service CEO Cassandra Goldie, Labor MP Jenny Macklin and social commentator Bernard Salt.
They addressed questions from the audience on topics such as cashless debit cards, the NDIS, the economy and whether there is a conflict between competitive markets and service provision.
Uniting CEO Paul Linossier said a strong economy alone would not bring about a fair and just society.
“A rising economy is not like a rising tide. A rising tide has the capacity to lift all the boats at the same time. When the economy moves, the benefits are not evenly distributed,” Mr Linossier said.
Mr Linossier said much of the current debate on welfare demonises people who are marginalised for failing to live up to certain tests of success.
“A different way – a just and fair society – would look at what’s our collective responsibility to reposition a community, a generation or a cohort with a different set of opportunities going forward.”
An audience member asked whether the Uniting Church’s social licence to operate in community services has been lost because of the Royal Commission findings.
President Stuart McMillan said it is important for the Church and its agencies to rebuild social trust. He does not believe the Church has lost its social licence, but acknowledges it has been damaged.
“The way in which we presents ourselves in response to the questions Royal Commission has been asking – with honesty, humility and care for survivors – is the way in which we have a chance to engender social trust,” Mr McMillan said.
“At every congregational level, at all levels of the Uniting Church, our credibility in the community is down to every individual in the way we conduct ourselves.”
Image: UnitingCare Australia/Twitter