Mental health in Australia has reached a point where an overwhelming majority of people believe we should learn ‘psychological first aid’ to better deal with mental health issues, in the same way that people learn the basics of physical first aid.
A national survey has found that 96 percent of people believe it is important that Australia embraces the World Health Organisation concept of educating about psychological first aid so people can identify mental health issues and know what to do.
The survey shows that nearly half the Australian population (45 percent) is ‘not confident’ or ‘unsure’ of how to recognise mental health issues, and would find it hard to pick between someone who is mentally unwell and someone simply ‘having a bad day.’
More than half the population (51 percent) admitted that if they were faced with someone who is experiencing mental health issues they would be reluctant to get involved and prefer to ‘leave it to professionals’.
At the same time the results indicate how far-reaching mental health experiences are across society. Half of all Australians are experiencing a mental health issue, suspect they have a mental health issue or have had a mental health issue at some stage.
The survey suggests that more than three-quarters of the population (76 percent) knows someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue or have done so in the past, or think they know someone who has or has had a mental helath issue.
35 percent of those living with a mental health issue say they work through it alone, without the support of doctors, counsellors or friends.
Interestingly, more than six out of ten people (64 percent) said that high profile people use mental health issues as an excuse for bad or disrespectful behavior.
On a highly positive note, nearly nine out of ten Australians (88 percent) say we’ve become more accepting and understanding of mental health issues over the past five to ten years, and even more (91 percent) believe people with a mental health issue can lead a normal, meaningful life.
Releasing the information in the lead up to Mental Health Month, Flourish Australia said there was a clear indication of far better attitudes towards mental health. However, there was still confusion about the signs and symptoms, what to do when it comes to reaching out to help those struggling and knowing where to go for help.
“Australia can take a bow for turning a corner when it comes to mental health acceptance and understanding,” Flourish Australia CEO Pam Rutledge said.
“However an ongoing problem is confusion over what to do when you think you or someone you know has a mental health issue.
“People with a lived experience are unsure of how to take the first steps to help, and many still struggle alone in silence.
“Even when people speak up, there’s a big chance that their families and friends won’t know what to say or do.
“It’s fitting that the theme of this year’s Mental Health Day is ‘psychological first aid’ when a significant majority of Australians are saying this is essential so mental health needs can be better recognised and addressed.”
Flourish Australia Director and prominent Psychiatrist Dr Josey Anderson said changing community attitudes made it easier to deal with mental health problems.
“Stigma seems to be fading as Australian’s become more relaxed about mental health,” Dr Anderson said.
“The reality is that half the population will have a mental health issue at some point in their life.
“However there’s still a gap between people who need help and the many services and supports that are available. That is a real pointer to the need for the current national mental health reform agenda to pick up pace and make it easy for anyone to access help.
“There’s a need for better systems so people needing help can better navigate through the many services and supports available.
“If you have a physical condition such as cancer or diabetes the pathway to support and treatment is clear and structured. If you have a mental health issue you can easily become lost between so many offerings and fall through the cracks.”
Flourish Australia Inclusion Manager and foremost mental health campaigner Fay Jackson said the results were uplifting.
“The results suggest that we’ve moved from the dark ages,” Ms Jackson said.
a“Acceptance of mental health in Australia has been a long time coming, but we seem to have arrived.
“Not that long ago people with severe mental health issues were often told they had no role in society.
“Mental health problems can strike anyone at any time, but the fact is you can recover and lead a meaningful, independent life if you get the right support at the right time.”
Review Partners Managing Director and survey coordinator Paul Costantoura said many aspects of the findings were surprising.
“If you ask Australians about mental health generally, nearly half say they can’t pick the difference between someone with a mental health issue and someone having a bad day.
“But when you spell out tell-tale mental health warning signs such as engaging in self harm or experiencing erratic mood swings most people will see it as a mental health warning sign.
“It seems to be a case of people ‘not knowing what they know’, and that better education and awareness is a key.
“There was also a strong suspicion that high profile figures often use mental health as a shield to cover for bad behavior, which could be adding to confusion about perceptions of mental health.”