April 29, 2010

Anyone can have a mental illness, even you.

Our small local paper rarely has much of interest except a whole lot of inflamed opinions, and yesterday's paper was no different, really. You see, the locals are afraid of the crazies who would be in a facility they're planning on building in the rural area outside of town. You can read the entire article (and the many ridiculous comments) here.

I was shocked that someone genuinely believed that this facility was a bad idea in a town where there is a whole lot of not much in the way of mental health services, and that they also believed that the clients in this facility would break out, take their money and then "God knows what else". It seems so ludicrous in this day and age of heightened awareness of mental health (thanks to organisations like BeyondBlue, Headspace and ReachOut!) that people could still harbour such hysterical opinions.

Then I started being shocked that these people could have so little compassion or empathy for other human beings with mental illness and other disabilities. It seemed... well, crazy to me that people were still so afraid of mental illness when one in five Australians will suffer from one in any one year. Mental illness does not discriminate based on age, race, social standing or gender. It can affect anyone at all, and there is a high chance that someone you love will be affected by a mental illness at any time in their life.

Based on those few simple facts it seems even more absurd that anyone can have such a negative view of those with mental illnesses. So why do people still have these opinions? Quite simply because they could never think a mental illness could happen to them, and they often have very little knowledge of understanding on the subject. The most exposure to mental illness they have ever had was in the newspaper, and this younger generation has a much different view on mental illness than the older one does because of increasing amounts of education starting to appear in the media.

My own father has confusing and out-of-date knowledge of the subject of mental illness, and I became aware that a lot of the things he said that were the wrong things to say where because of his own ignorance, not out of any desire to be hurtful. He just hadn't had the same education that I had on the subject.

Perhaps the local Bees Creek community would not be reacting in such a strong way to the proposal of a mental health facility in their area if they were all given more education about mental health. It sounds so simple, but how do you educate an entire population of people who have old and strong opinions on the subject? I don't know the answer, but I hope that some day someone will because mental illness is such a common health problem in our local communities, no matter where in the world you are living.

It is also important to remember that anyone can have a mental illness, even you.

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