It’s not surprising 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 much more.
It can feel bleak and unending for those experiencing mental ill-health.
Although some will fully recover, others will live with a mental health condition their entire lives. But that doesn’t mean they can’t recover from the crisis stage and lead happy, fulfilling and meaningful lives.
For Mental Health Month ACT this October, five incredible people 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. “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’m living my most authentic, happy, healthy, fulfilling and impactful life, more so than I could have ever hoped prior to my diagnosis.”
But this happiness requires seeking help, which many find difficult. Often because of the stigma attached.
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’s your family and community, that’s great. But if that doesn’t seem like an option for you, it’s 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.”
Ambassador Mark Brosnan agrees. “Speak up. Get help fast. And build a strong mental health team around you.”
So too does 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 set up specifically to help in these circumstances.”
That leads to the second barrier to finding help, 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. Generally run by non-government organisations, these essential services support people with mental health conditions to live well and meet everyday challenges.
Unfortunately, government spending is increasingly skewed toward hospital and clinical care. Since 2014, per capita spending on community-managed 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 support. But without sufficient funding, existing services can’t cope with the demand, and people are falling through the gaps.
I continue to call on 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.
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’s a time to 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’s an opportunity to talk about the systemic reasons so many experience mental ill-health, and what action we can take.
I invite all Canberrans to think about what you can do this October for a more mentally healthy Canberra.
And if you’re experiencing mental ill-health, in the words of ambassador Mark Brosnan: “Know that mental illness is not the end.”
Find out more at Mental Health Month.