Coming through the other side
Corinne Dobson, Acting CEO of MHCC ACT
This article was originally published in The Riotact on 8 October 2022.
It is not surprising that rates of mental ill-health and distress have increased significantly over the last few years. We have all been through so much: bushfires, COVID, lost community connections, additional caring burdens, and so much more.
It can all feel a bit bleak and unending. Which, for many people, is how they feel when they are experiencing mental ill-health.
Although some people will fully recover and never experience the symptoms again, others will live with a mental health condition for their entire lives. But that doesn’t mean they can’t recover from the crisis stage and have happy, fulfilling and meaningful lives in our community.
For Mental Health Month ACT this October, five incredible members of our community came forward as Community Ambassadors to talk about their lived experiences with mental health conditions. They all spoke about their hope and optimism, having come through the other side of crisis.
For Yenn Purkis, mental ill-health was once a deep hole that many didn’t expect them to ever come out of. “I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1995 after having a psychotic episode related to illicit drug use. At the time, I was homeless and a recent ex-prisoner. I am now an author and public servant—and I still have schizophrenia.”
Beth Garwood believes her increased self-awareness following her diagnosis of bipolar disorder is a superpower. “I can honestly say I am living my most authentic, happy, healthy, fulfilling and impactful life, more so than I could have ever hoped for prior to my diagnosis.”
But this happiness required seeking help, which many find difficult. The first reason this can be challenging is something that all of us need to overcome: stigma.
Mental Health Month Ambassador Dinukshi Kapuruge knows firsthand the oppression of stigma and the need to overcome it. “Your mental health experiences are your own and they are valid, and everyone deserves to have support through this. If that is your family and community, that is great, but if that doesn’t seem like an option for you, it is better to seek help from someone else instead of suffering in silence by giving into the narrative that mental health is taboo to speak about.”
The advice from Mark Brosnan was more to the point. “Speak up. Get help fast. And build a strong mental health team around you.”
The importance of having a support network, including mental health professionals, was echoed by Ambassador Courtney Chapman. “You don’t have to battle this alone. It can feel like the whole world is against you when your mental health is taking a turn for the worst, but there are incredible resources and organisations that are set up specifically to help in these circumstances.”
That leads to the second barrier to finding help, which is proving just as pernicious as stigma: the lack of funding for community-managed mental health services.
Unlike clinical services provided by hospitals or psychologists, community-managed mental health programs focus on prevention and recovery. These essential services, generally run by non-government organisations, support people with mental health conditions to live well in our community and meet everyday challenges when and where they need it most.
Unfortunately, government spending is increasingly skewed toward hospital and clinical care. Since 2014, per capita spending on community-manged mental services has nearly halved, while expenditure on acute hospital care has more than doubled. That has contributed to a crisis-driven system, where people need to reach their lowest point before they can get help.
Instead, we should be investing in services that help prevent people’s mental health issues from escalating into crises and provide supports for people to recover and stay well in the community. But without sufficient funding, existing services can’t cope with the demand, and people are falling through the gaps.
This Mental Health Month, I continue to call on both the ACT and Federal Governments to recognise the dire situation of the community-managed mental health sector and commit to providing adequate funding so we can support our community.
Held in October each year, Mental Health Month is an opportunity to raise community awareness and understanding of mental health, reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health conditions, and promote positive mental health and wellbeing.
It is a time for us to all learn more about managing our mental wellbeing, when and where to seek help, and how to look after others in our community. And, as a community, it is an opportunity to talk about the systemic reasons why so many experience mental ill-health, and what collective action we can take to address those drivers.
I invite all Canberrans to think about what you can do this October for a more mentally healthy Canberra.
And if you are experiencing mental ill-health, in the words of Ambassador Mark Brosnan: “Know that mental illness is not the end.”
Find out more at www.mentalhealthmonthact.org
Media contact: Angel Hellyer, Communications and Events Manager, 0493 388 756 | email@example.com
MHCC ACT is the peak body for community-managed mental health services in the ACT. Find out more about MHCC ACT at www.mhccact.org.au.