Welcome to this November ‘Inside MHCC ACT’ newsletter. We’ve not been able to put out one of these newsletters for a month or two due to the many other things going on at this time of year – most importantly Mental Health Month!
Looking back at Mental Health Month (MHM) 2019, I reflect on a couple of things. Firstly, it was a tremendously successful month with over 40 events covering a wide range of mental health and wellbeing topics and hosted by all kinds of mental health, wellbeing and mainstream groups. The level of engagement was high throughout the month with great turnouts for events from the Launch through to the MHM Awards Celebration at the other end of the Month. It was fabulous – and truly exhausting!
Delving a level deeper, I took note that there was more engagement and participation from groups outside of the traditional mental health sector than ever before. I’m pleased and excited to see this for two reasons: firstly because raising community awareness is what we are ultimately trying to do with the MHM program; and secondly because it’s a sign of community interest in mental health increasing and stigma decreasing.
Another example of the more mainstream community engagement in MHM is the attendance at the Mental Health & Wellbeing Expo. Once again a record crowd (3500 people) came through the Expo and stallholders reported lots of people chatting to them and showing interest in what supports are available and where to find them. The participant survey also showed that respondents really liked the sense of a “one-stop-shop” with all the different services being in one place at the same time. Once upon a time many of those people out on their lunchbreak from nearby offices wouldn’t have gone near such a thing as a Mental Health Expo for fear of being marked as one of “those people” by colleagues and passers-by, so it’s great to see that increased openness and interest from ‘ordinary’ people.
The MHM Awards are more focused on celebrating the great work done in the mental health sector, but also in that arena there were quite a few nominees and award winners who were from outside the traditional mental health sector. It’s heartening to see the recognition of the importance of mental health spread like this.
The success of MHM is a sign of the progress our society is making towards breaking down the stigma of mental health in the general community. I would like to give Maddie and the team here at MHCC ACT some of the credit for that, but it is of course a result of the hard work and determined efforts of many people and organisations – including ours. Things are shifting in the mainstream culture and that is undoubtedly a good thing.
However, there is still plenty of stigma and discrimination being experienced by people living with mental illness, their families and loved ones, and those working in the mental health sector. People working in the mental health sector often experience a level of stigma by association. Mental Health is considered a low status area to work in and combined with challenging work environments, particularly in acute services, this creates a workforce problem. Simply put, not enough highly skilled people want to work in mental health. Not being able to fill vacant positions just makes the work environment even more challenging. It is also the case that stigma against people living with mental illness is still alive and well in many areas, including paradoxically in some mental health services.
Thus the importance of initiatives such as MHM – as well as the work of MIEACT, the ACT Recovery College, and many others – mustn’t be underestimated. Telling positive stories, giving opportunities for people to have exposure to people living with mental illness when they are well, celebrating the great work of individuals and groups to promote good mental health, and promoting awareness of mental health and access to services are all critical to reducing stigma and moving us forward towards a mentally healthy community.
Executive Officer, MHCC ACT