Sadly, societal stigma and mental health misinterpretation continues across Indigenous communities despite the positive momentum being gained through health promotion awareness campaigns.
These campaigns are critical to increasing our knowledge and understanding of mental illness.
As a Kamilaroi woman and Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, I want to raise awareness around the work towards changing perceptions and de-stigmatising mental health across communities.
I hope to achieve this through sharing knowledge and having open conversations and I encourage you to provide feedback, ask questions or share your own stories.
Over the years, I’ve worked with many incredible people who during their low points have articulately described the impacts of stigmatisation, verbalising, “It makes me feel like I’m diseased” and recounting, “There’s always an awkward silence when I talk about how my anxiety or depression feels”.
Unfortunately, many individuals disengage help-seeking behaviours claiming that “the silence of others speaks loudly … like they’ve labelled me in their mind as ‘mad or defective’ … it makes me feel like a burden so I just keep it to myself now”.
Really, what is mental health and why is it so hard to talk about? Let’s bring it back to basics. Mental health is essentially our overall state of wellbeing (emotional, psychological and social).
Nonetheless, stigma remains a significant barrier for those living with mental health concerns that often disrupts individuals from seeking professional help.
This can lead to isolating behaviours that can lead to an overall deterioration in mental state.
Re-labelling how mental health is perceived requires a collaborative approach to reduce misconceptions – can you imagine if we were able to talk about our anxieties, stressors or behaviours without fear of judgement?
As mental illness has no preference to gender, age, spiritual beliefs or ethnicity, it can affect any of us at any given time throughout our lives.
Listening to another’s story or being the one who shares your story allows each participant to normalise how mental health is perceived and reduce the stigma.
Don’t we want to create communities that provide a safe place to openly seek treatment and be able to discuss mental health without fear of prejudice or judgement?
Building inclusivity and acceptance for those living with mental illness will ensure resilience across our communities, creating a safe harbour for our future generations.
By Kym Friese