We need to stop pretending mental illness isn’t real

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. In one way or another, we have all been affected or known someone who

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. In one way or another, we have all been affected or known someone who has committed or attempted suicide. It’s a horrible tragedy and often the symptoms of severe depression go unnoticed even by those close to the deceased. Men, especially, are at higher risk of suicide and often hide their feelings and sadness from their families until it is too late.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that 350 million people around the world suffer from depression. About seven people take their own lives every day in Australia and more than 65,000 people attempt suicide each year. Statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2016 show that the highest suicide rates by age group and gender were men and women over the age of 85 years. It is also believed that about 10 per cent of those over 65 in Australia experience anxiety.

WHO says of depression, that it “is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.” Depression has been called “the common cold” of mental illness. In other words, most of us have probably suffered a bout of it, one time or another. Anxiety and depression are not a weakness of character – they are a health issue just like any other.

So, why do so many of us, feel uncomfortable about admitting we suffer from it? Or worse still, have a stigma around talking about it?

The question of whether mental health illnesses are real diseases is a deeply flawed one. In our society, a real disease with clear genetic, biological, or physiological symptoms gives credibility to medical intervention, understanding, and social support. Those suffering from what are deemed to be real diseases cannot be held responsible for their condition.

If, however, a condition is not categorised as a real disease, those who have it are considered to be less deserving of care and support. There was a time when people with mental illness were considered moral failures, who were suffering from a weakness of character and hysterically seeking attention.

About 2800 Australians die every year in Australia due to suicide, but Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley says many of those deaths could be prevented. “Starting a conversation could make a real difference to someone’s life,” she said, talking about it on R U OK Day.

When Robin Williams was found dead, it took a while till they released the reason behind it, and when they did, it was revealed that it was suicide due to depression. It was widely recognised that, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the star was battling with depression and anxiety. His wife said of his death, “As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

One of the greatest things to come out of the devastating news of his death was that more people recognised depression and suicide as a result of it to be a real thing, and started having more of a conversation around it too. But that seems to fade away with the memory of the star too, sadly, and the stigma slowly makes its way back, creeping into the realms of our world yet again.

This brings us to a big question…When so many of us are struggling, shouldn’t we all band together and stop acting like being “mentally ill” carries some sort of stigma? 

If this brutal beast of an illness is strong enough to kill someone with the passion, determination, and genius of Robin Williams, then we must do everything we can to protect those who are more fragile.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact:

Lifeline – Call 13 11 14.

Suicide Call Back Service – Call 1300 659 467.

Beyond Blue – Call 1300 22 4636 – 24/7.

Australian Men’s Shed Association – Find your nearest shed here.

Carers Australia – Call 1800 242 636.

Headspace – Call 1800 650 890.

MensLine Australia – Call 1300 78 99 78.

Has depression or anxiety affected you? If so, are you open about it or are you worried people around you will judge you?

  1. Patrice Smith  

    I have a gentleman who has wanted/tried to end his life… He’s now living with us awaiting to move on. Just got the biggest hug ever from him. Feeling very touched……..

  2. IM A carer of now two family members it was 4 at one time . one aged 83/bipolar /aneurysm/stroke/and now dementia the other autistic /blind in one eye /deaf in one ear /deformed feet ( needing expensive shoes ) living in rental accomodation at thier mercy. have already tried suicide once but for my daughter i wouldnt be here . still think about it daily. wen I was takein into the ER for the attempted sucide i was sobered up /meds left to wear off and sent home a year later i still plan it more so now since this house is up for sale and the agent selling it took pics during my long attempt to down size so he told our realtor it was dirty and messy. messy yes dirty no cept for the dust from the construction over the fence any way we have an insepection on the 19th if it dont meet standards we get 5 days to get out. this is the last straw everyone is amazed at how i manage . well i cant manage any more do I have to hang from the storey bridge to get some help ??

  3. Mary Heffernan  

    With the LNP government “cracking down” on payments and services to the elderly, especially superannuants, no wonder older people commit suicide when they are devalued and treated appallingly. Surely having worked, paid our FAIR SHARE of taxes (no tax haven in the Caymans), raised children, etc. we are entitled to some peace of mind in our old age, but no, we get targeted by this group of pollies who take every advantage of tax-free perks, early retirement, lavish superannuation, etc, etc, etc. I get the strong feeling that this political party covertly despises us “oldies”. How miserable is that??

    • Joseph Arsanis  

      Depression, sadness, mental illness does affect many people. President Reagan closed many help facilities for the ill. Now many are ARRESTED, JAILED, HOMELESS. Proper MEDICATIONS is not given, not many are watched over/reminded to take medication. Big pharma makes BILLIONS $$$$ and won’t develop something that helps the sick get better. I see many vets being discharged and taking the poisonous ANTIPSYCHOTICS drugs for illness/diseases that they shouldn’t be . Those meds will: shorten your life, patient suicides, cause many other pill popping diseases such as DIABETES, OBESITY, HYPERTENSION, CANCER. The VA pays for those meds which cost $300, $400,$500 and up per ONE (1) monthly bottle of pills., it’s not hard to figure out the $Illions that go to big pharma. Keeping people on meds, locked in prison, etc., are MAJOR MONEY PROJECTS FOR THE WEALTHY. A person is found on the street out of his mind. Given antipsychotic meds, after a few days that person is much better. He/she is clinically well. However, the more ANTIPSYCHOTIC meds given the person can’t handle it and those pills cause him to become and stay mentally ill. Police will arrest. Ambulances will transport mentally ill to hospital after immature punks decide to beat/rob defenseless, homeless person. Once brought down to being clinically normal (3-4 days) that person needs, care consisting of NUTRITION (let thy food be thy medicine, let thy medicine be thy food) rest, supplements. NOT MORE PILLS that make a sane person insane. Orthomolecular (mega doses of vitamins) treatment is an avenue to look into, in addition to other safe alternative treatments. Pay it forward, help others less fortunate. Police, first responders can’t do it all.

    • I’m comforted to see sadly there are other people between 60 n 65 being treated as badly as I feel I am.I could deal with my illness and battle on when younger but knowing now that I’m just on a scrap heap and the day to day difficulties I wonder why I worked so hard n paid taxes for those fat cats so we could live in poverty in our older years I plan on writing letters to anyone (politicians etc.) although I don’t hold much hope of change,wish you well!Sandy

  4. Carole robinson  

    Im not going to put my story too much on here but believe me mental health issues have affected my life from the age of ten to now thru one form of another, im 62 now and find there is no help for 62yr olds out there unless i want to pay thru the nose to usually good intentioned 30yr old ish people with a quick certificate but have no clue….i can im told at 65 see a goverment social type worker that see the elderly but in the meantime i have to fend for myself! Ive done the shrinks in hospital and been doped to the eyeballs because they dont either have time to see you after discharge or thats easier! Half the time they misdiagnose you! Ive seen full blown shrinks and they put you on zombie meds too! …there is no real treatment or anywhere to go unless your rich in australia, or your a youth and that is where its important to help young people while they are growing, but there are many baby boomers who have fell thru the cracks basically needing the same! All they have is living in their home curled up in a ball, desperate for help , have no friends or family, are embarressed at their age and are considering suicide daily….if there was more people maki g these rules and dishing out money who”eve had mental health issues theyd know how to help. I dont think there will ever be understanding of the real issues or help, not in my lifetime….

  5. I have been diagnosed by 6 psychologists as having a long term mental illness. Depression and previous suicide attempts along with suicidal thoughts are some of my symptoms. I have complex PTSD & Dissociative Disorder. There is also a family history of mental illness. My maternal Grandmother died aged 36 in a mental asylum in the 1940s. Mental illness was very much stygmatised in my family…a dark family skeleton. Through the generations society kept echoing my family conditioning. Preventing me seeking out help until a court psychologist in 2010 got a magistrate to recommend I do. I am 53. I have lost many years and almost my life to not seeking help for fear of being labelled.Some consistent public education on how the human mind works will help the shame, guilt & weakness felt by sufferers as well as more understanding and acceptance by society.

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