A global crisis. No matter which country you go to, it seems as though the percentage of the population with a mental disorder is increasing.
In Australia, the mental disorder numbers have increased by 37% between 1990 and 2010 [Harvey et al, 2016]. Currently, about 20% of people will experience a form of mental disorder in a typical year, totalling to an approximate 5 million people suffering annually, and 45% of Australians between the age of 16 – 85 will experience a mental disorder in their lives [Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018]. This number goes up to a staggering 9 million people who will suffer from such difficulties here in Australia alone. This percentage is similar to the United States, where slightly more than 50% of young adults will experience a mental disorder in their lives [Pedersen and Paves, 2014], with the total number of people being around 23 million in the United States [Statistica, 2018]. The sheer number of people affected by mental disorder can help illustrate the need to increase awareness and sympathy (and empathy) towards the sufferers as many disorders can be influenced by stressors of the individual’s environment. Many, along with myself, know that mental disorder is an existing issue, however, did not know the gravity of which the issue is affecting our global and local communities. If 1 in 5 people are affected yearly in Australia, then on average there are roughly 4 students in my university classes who suffer, per class, this year. However, I am unable to identify who they are because no one is ever willing to talk about it, but why? The only person that I can truly identify as someone who has suffered severely is myself, and for the most part, have ‘recovered’. Despite all of this, I have been unable to open up to my peers until this opportunity to pursue a social movement that I am personally passionate about albeit I still find myself trying to be economical with the information that I give.
Our society has gone through multiple social movements that have essentially improved the lives of the marginalised, such as; the LGBT community and Black Lives Matter, by removing associated negative stigma, at least from the majority of the population, and increasing awareness via mediums of empathy. The negative stigma of mental disorder dates back to 9,000 years of human history, displaying a constant conflict of ethics and beliefs. Anthropologists discovered and identified the first signs of Trephination (the drilling of holes into the skull) as a ritual to release the evils spirits residing in the hosts head dating back to 6,500 BC [Fareras, 2018]. This point of human history can be identified as the birth of the negative stigma that plagues our modern society today. In the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church faced multiple economic and politic conflicts and decided to re-establish evil and demonic presence within those who displayed alternative thinking, which led to witch hunting [Quintanilla, 2010]. In the 16th Century, hospitals and asylums were established, the most significant of which is Bedlam, in order to protect the public from people with a mental disorder [Fareras, 2018]. Even in modern society, people who suffer from a mental disorder are constantly looked down on and isolated from the community. In my teenage years, I suffered from depression, and despite being a ‘jock’ who represented my high school in multiple teams, I was mocked and unable to maintain stable relationships, including within my family tree, making me feel isolated and alone.
In 2014, Pedersen and Paves conducted a study that showed 20% of College students who had mental health disorder refused to get help because “[they] worry what others will think” [Pedersen and Paves, 2014]. Additionally, the study also showed that 65% of college students would agree with the statement, “most people would think less of someone who has received mental health treatment”, but in reality, only 25% of the sample gathered actually do look down on people with mental treatment [Pedersen and Paves, 2014]. It seems as though the 9,000-year negative association of mental disorder is still completely ingrained in our society, even though our current society has shown the most empathy towards our holistic ecosystem – we consistently fight for animal rights, the fight for human equality, preserving mother nature, and more. This causes me to believe that our modern society can help alleviate the negative stigma embedded in the public, we just need a little push.
Mental Health in Indigenous Communities
Indigenous Australians have had a long history of public association with mental disorders, however, only a few have dedicated the time to study the possible reasonings behind this reputation. Since the first European settlers, the Indigenous Australians have faced a constant ‘dis-remembrance’ of their culture and people, from having a massive depopulation due to exposure to diseases (introduced by the Europeans) to relocation imposed by the invasive nature of the settlers. This in itself can be enough to cause mass depression in the community. In 2001, the Indigenous suicide rate was 56% higher than non-Indigenous, with 83% of the suicides recorded were from individuals younger than 35 years old. In 2004, mental disorder cases were double the number of non-Indigenous sufferers [Hunter, 2007]. These tragic occurrences can etch the minds of loved ones, and thus creating a causal effect within the greater community. An example of which can be the traumatic experience of a child seeing their parent dead after committing suicide, developing symptoms of PTSD, depression and resentment.
However, it should also be noted that mental disorder can be catalysed by many different factors, including the social and environmental exposure of the individuals. Hunter’s study reveals the lack of attention that the Indigenous community is receiving in terms of gentrification and planning, those who live in rural areas have the tendency to have lower qualities of education thus much lower employment rates which consequently affects their income. This lack of income can then influence liveability negatively, especially in the socio-economic structure of monetary values in the lifestyles brought in by the Europeans. Simply put, there is an inadequate supply of accessible services, including medical (mental and physical), for Indigenous communities living in rural places due to the “lack of understanding of the difficulties Indigenous people experience in accessing help” [Hunter, 2007].
Reconfirming the Beliefs of My Social Enterprise
The social enterprise will focus on bridging the relational gap between ‘sufferer-sufferer’ and ‘sufferer-non-sufferer’ by removing the negative stigma and promote a social movement through creative writing and personal stories.
After more research, the potential benefits of the motif holds true. The creative writing and stories can serve as a source of understanding, such as the Indigenous experience, which can lead to empathic social movements to help rectify the injustice imposed on within our society, particularly those on mental disorder.
It also helps illustrate how mental disorders are affecting everyone, in Australia one-fifth of people yearly and almost half will suffer in their life. Let me paint some images for you:
- If you are in a family of five, statistically speaking, one of your family members will probably suffer at some stage of the year.
- An average classroom will hold an average of 20-25 students. This means you will know 4-5 people who will suffer from a mental disorder, per class.
- Roughly every other person you meet will suffer a mental disorder at some stage in their life.
Despite the number of people affected, the majority of people are unwilling to open up or seek help due to the stigma of judgement and image of ‘weakness’. The written pieces can, therefore, help to reach out to those who feel isolated – this inspires me to also promote autonomy and the possibility of allowing previous writers to help train, educate and connect with new aspiring story-tellers (writers) – to create a sense of comradery. The initial target of consumers will primarily be the friends and families of the writer, they are the main foundation for their sense of isolation or community, to help them visualise the struggling and possibly initiate better understanding of certain interactions. There is also a potential to appeal to the general public as they may also know of someone who may be suffering from similar mental disorders, access to the book/magazine can easily be viable through the internet (ebooks, podcasts, online bookstore). It could be a subscription-based magazine – although more research will be needed for this.
The research has also inspired me to explore the possibility of involving people from different backgrounds to use as ‘themes’ for each volume. For example:
- Volume 1 could deal with mental health disorder in rural Indigenous communities
- Volume 2 could deal with the effects of discrimination on mental disorders in transgender people in the workplace
- Volume 3 could deal with the hardships of a refugee due to post-traumatic and mental disorder
All of these could also lead to potential partners for each issue of the writing; Indigenous Community Volunteers (ICV), Victorian Pride Centre, Refugees Welcome Australia, and Headspace. The magazine or book could even be a side project of The Big Issue.
The Social Enterprise will never forcibly make the mentally vulnerable to write or tell their stories. We will only consist of writers who are voluntarily there, providing them with access to our creative writing and training sessions, as well as a platform with the opportunity to be understood.
ABC. (2018). You Can’t Ask That [Video]. Retrieved from http://iview.abc.net.au/programs/you-cant-ask-that/LE1517H008S00
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2018). Mental health services in Australia, Prevalence and policies – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/mental-health-services/mental-health-services-in-australia/report-contents/summary/prevalence-and-policies
Farreras, I. (2018). History of Mental Illness. Retrieved from http://nobaproject.com/modules/history-of-mental-illness
Harvey, S., Deady, M., Wang, M., Butterworth, P., Christensen, H., & Mitchell, P. (2017). Is the prevalence of mental illness increasing in Australia?. The Medical Journal Australia, 206(11), 490 – 493.
Hunter, E. (2007). Disadvantage and Discontent: A Review of Issues Relevant to the Mental Health of Rural and Remote Indigenous Australians. Australian Journal Of Rural Health, 15, 88 – 93. doi: 10.111/j.1440-1584.2007.00869.x
Mindframe. (2007). Mental Illness Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.mindframe-media.info/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/6009/Mental-Illness-Facts-and-Statistics.pdf
Pedersen, E., & Paves, A. (2018). Comparing perceived public stigma and personal stigma of mental health treatment and seeking in a young adult sample. Psychiatry Research, 219, 143 – 150.
Quintanilla, B. (2010). Witchcraft or Mental Illness. Retrieved from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/schizoaffective/witchcraft-or-mental-illness
Statistica. (2018). Number of youth and young adult population in the U.S. 2000-2010 | Statistic. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/221843/number-of-youth-and-young-adult-population-in-the-us/
Wikipedia. (2018). Hippocrates. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippocrates