This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and after dealing with a mental health issue in a very personal way, it has more resonance to me than in the past.
Mental illness may be something we can now recognise without whispering behind our hands, but it is still a topic with which many feel uncomfortable.
ABC’s Four Corners a few weeks ago raised the issue of adolescent mental health and the lack of education, understanding and resources for this increasingly prevalent public health concern.
And it seems to be the younger generation affected by mental illness more than any other.
According to the Mental Health Council of Australia one in five people will experience mental illness this year.
Mental illness, like cancer, doesn’t discriminate. It affects the young, the old, rich, poor, and everyone in between.
But unfortunately, for those without financial resources or strong support systems, treatment for mental illness can be lacklustre at best, whereas those who receive a diagnosis of something like cancer can usually access medical care and intervention.
My own experience with mental illness has come in the form of an eating disorder and like many parents, family and friends of those who suffer from this illness, trying to navigate the public health system in regards to treatment has opened my eyes to the lack of resources available to all those with mental illnesses.
Foundations like Beyond Blue and the Black Dog Institute have worked hard to educate the health care profession and the public about mental illness but there is still a long way to go.
It seems that many still see mental illness as somehow the fault of the sufferer, rather than a medical condition.
Coming back to my own experience in the public health system, rather than compassion and understanding, staff have done things like talk loudly and slowly as if the sufferer was deaf and somehow intellectually compromised.
There was an undercurrent of “it’s all too hard” and “not again” rather than trying to understand the confusion and fear that many in throes of a psychotic episode are experiencing.
Of course, it’s not the fault of the overworked and under-resourced doctors and nurses in the public health system. They try and ensure that all who come through the emergency department doors are cared for.
It’s an issue of underfunding from all levels of government. Mental illness is complex, and there is no one-size-fits all treatment but for the public health system it has to be because there is just not enough education for those working within it, there are not enough beds for those in need of medical intervention and there is not enough awareness of just how a mental illness affects not just the sufferer but all those who care for them.
There is a candlelight vigil tonight outside the NSW Parliament House organised by a young woman advocating for more public awareness and funding for eating disorders.
Although the rally is for a specific illness, the organisers hope at least 1000 people will attend. Public awareness for one mental illness can have a cascade effect for others.
Ending live meat export rallies attracted 3000 people – surely a vigil for 20 per cent of the population with mental illness can get just as much support.