CEO Update - What do I see? I see change and a steady reduction in stigma

Lachlan Searle

From Bondi Beach to Possum Creek, Bunbury to Bellerive - World Mental Health Day and the ‘Do You See What I See?’ campaign has struck a chord this year.

Some of the biggest organisations and employers in the country have supported the ‘Do You See What I See?’ campaign and held events to raise awareness and help reduce the stigma associated with mental health.

From international airlines, to mining companies, law firms, banks, hospitals, schools, universities, major supermarket chains, state and federal government departments and more, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of organisations engaging with the campaign, more than 500 nationally, as well as an increase in the number of events held.

The events are getting bigger too, and it was fantastic to link arms with OneWave, Livin, Suicide Prevention Australia, Waves of Wellness, R U OK?, Black Dog Institute, batyr, ReachOut, Sane, and Headspace to form a giant eye on Bondi Beach to kick off World Mental Health Day on Tuesday.

And as I stood there, with my feet in the sand, in Gadigal country, I reflected on just how far we have come. How all of this exposure, and more, is helping to reduce stigma. Helping to change attitudes. Helping to highlight problems and solutions. And most importantly helping people feel more comfortable to seek help.

Close to 20,000 Australian’s have now made and shared a mental health promise at A clear sign that people are having conversations they never used to have because they feel more comfortable to do so. Comfortable to make a public promise about mental health.

People are also providing services that never used to exist, like the team at OneWave who surf in fluro every Friday, or Might & Mane, a little start-up not-for-profit looking to train barbers to have safe conversations with men. People looking to create change because they care about their family, friends and their community. Good people doing great things.

For such a movement to have gathered momentum, thanks to so many positive campaigns that continue to grow year-on-year, there has to have been a reduction in stigma, and we have to keep working hard to reduce it further.

Stigma is the sum total of a series of individual acts and omissions. And so, it’s really only when we actually name and tackle those individual acts, and omissions that we get closer to the heart of what stigma, or discrimination really is.

Talking about stigma in the broad can lose impact. It’s the specifics of stigma, and the concrete impact of those little acts that affect people’s lives and expectations of themselves, and their aspirations for participation in the community. Acts that insidiously eat away at reasonable expectations, to ultimately settle into something less than perfect, that is stigma.

In the broader mental health system, tackling stigma and discrimination is still our biggest challenge. It is a challenge within the system, where labels lead to service provision, or not, and it’s a challenge in the wider community where rhetoric so often outweighs reality.

The reality is World Mental Health Day is becoming a bigger and bigger and platform from which to promote positive mental health and wealth… and tackle stigma. It’s a celebration of the collaboration of organisations, service providers, government and more. A celebration of how we as a community continue to grow, continue to learn and continue to break down stigma and discrimination.

From painted surfboards to alpacas roaming a main street in Gippsland to help start a conversation, the aim this year was to shed a more positive light this World Mental Health Day, and if that light helped one person seek help, then that’s a reduction in stigma.

It is always dangerous to single people out when these campaigns are such a team effort, and everyone in our small team at Mental Health Australia made such a big contribution, but we do owe a vote of thanks to Lachlan Searle, our Director of External Relations, who managed to pull off another great effort with his quiet determination. Thanks Lach!

Finally, this week and on World Mental Health Day, I had the opportunity for a longer conversation with ABC TV’s ‘The Drum’ about the NDIS and mental health and if you missed it you can catch up on iView following the link here.

Warm regards

Frank Quinlan, CEO Mental Health Australia

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