Razer: Mentally ill need services, not an ABC feel-good week

Last Friday on Brisbane local radio, ABC managing director Mark Scott spoke with host Spencer Howson about the week’s two major organisational concerns.  The first was the “Mental As” suite of programming, which aimed to support national discussion during Mental Health Week. The second was likely funding cuts to the ABC. The corporation’s most senior employee was able to speak to the need for talk on what most everyone agrees is an urgent health concern and the need for funding to the kind of broadcaster that airs such talk. The curious thing was that amid Scott’s week of mental health-themed television, the question of funding to mental health services was itself barely raised.

This is not to say that the “Mental As” week was awful, although some of it really was. The “Crack Up” evening of variety fundraising was largely a roll call of cross-network do-gooders for whom Looking Very Concerned in public forms part of their personal brand. Jessica Rowe, who has previously written on the powerful topic of a woman’s right to choose cosmetic surgery, was there, and so was David Koch, who famously followed the harsh Kokoda march in a T-shirt advertising his network. Everyone on this and many other programs during the week agreed that “no one ever talks about mental health”– even though the most cursory search of any national news database will show that mental health is up there with the evil of Muslims as one of our preferred objects of journalism — and everyone congratulated themselves for finally “shining a light” on a topic that is so often illuminated by concern.

It is just a bare lie to say that mental health is an unpopular or hidden topic. Like any utility journalist, I have written about mental health dozens of times, most speciously in a 1999 book on the everyday management of depressive disorder that said what most articles and broadcasts of the time and of the present say. To wit: it’s really important that other people understand mental illness. We must, I said to my shame, Raise Awareness.

And this false illumination has continued in the 20 years since Elizabeth Wurtzel’s best-selling memoir of depression, Prozac Nation, was published. The overwhelming advice of writers and broadcasters is that those who do not have mental illness should try to make the effort to understand those who do.  I have no intention of re-reading my own shitty chapter that remonstrates the mentally well for their failure to understand the mentally dishevelled, but I can be fairly sure that the guidance is identical to that offered all last week by the ABC.  The best thing, apparently, one can do for mental illness is to understand it and describe it, as we were repeatedly told during the execrable “Crack Up” and other programs, in more sensitive terms.

Now, I am not going to advocate for a new era of oblivious language and mid-century fear of “madness”. In my own experience with a reactive depression, I found that the sympathy of others was quite soothing. But this, to be frank, was as nothing when compared to the comprehensive professional care I was able to elicit thanks to my employer’s insurance. Understanding friends pacified me, but strong pharmaceuticals and a tedious but effective program of counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy was what kept me away from the knife drawer.

And so it is for any individual who encounters the hardship of what is called mental illness. Understanding, of oneself and by others, is potentially quite useful. But treatment, which remains in short supply, is essential.

Nonetheless, the ABC used its programming to urge individuals to recognise the symptoms of mental illness in themselves and others. There were a few programs, such as the fascinating but not ultimately instructive Changing Minds, which gave us a view of patients and professionals working to combat thought disorders. But I am not at all sure how this artful voyeurism functions to usefully “shine a light” on psychosis. If someone invites you to her wedding with Jesus, there’s a good chance that you already know to call the high dependency unit and that your friend has been a previous client. Your fear or lack of understanding of people beset by what we once called demons is, really, the least of their concerns. If we discount, as the ABC largely appeared to, the glaring fact that mental illness impacts social groups with less material and social capital — “it can affect anyone” is the democratising hallmark of discussion, which rarely goes on to conclude “but it tends to affect certain socioeconomic groups in far greater numbers” — and that what they need are better living conditions, then what they need is treatment services. In the post-political broadcast of “Mental As” it is dangerously taken as read that these treatment services are easy to secure.

Well, they’re not. And I understand that it is a convention of journalism not to dissuade mentally unwell people from seeking help but, really, it just seems pointless at best and damaging at worst to uphold the falsehood that care is there if you need it. If I were to take the advice of “Mental As” and try to get a shrink to treat a depression that has recurred for 15 years, I’d be waiting weeks to see a co-pay idiot called Neville who is required to kick me off subsidy after 12 sessions and giving me the advice to “treat myself”  with a nice facial. I’d rather hoped that Neville could treat me, but as things turned out, it was cheaper and more effective to turn long-term to beauty therapy. Even Neville admits it. There’s some fucking Awareness. None of which I saw during the 10 hours of “Mental As” programming I watched. The only Awareness needed is that there is “no stigma” in the commonly diagnosed mental illnesses like depression and anxiety that we are constantly talking about not talking about. Personally, I don’t give a shit if there is “no stigma”. I do, however, give a shit that there is not adequate treatment.

But, of course, this is “negative thinking” in a Utopian week of programming that makes like there are services for all those who are, we are persistently reminded, from “all walks of life”.  There may be after this week broadly lauded as “healing” and “inspirational” a reduced stigma attached to mental illness. But there is, it seems, a “stigma” in expecting the national broadcaster to engage with the facts of the poverty that creates mental illness and the poverty of nationally funded services to treat it.

It’s all very well and good for attractive entertainers to profitably confess to their own vulnerability. But this does shit-all, or possibly even harms, the question of the urgent need for services.

The ABC can claim to outrun such critique by its charitable telethon, which raised $1 million in funds for an organisation devoted not to treatment but early career clinical research. So it’s OK that no critique of a failing health system emerged because they’re plugging the gap by helping out an organisation that studies, among other things “how stigma toward mental health problems is a barrier to people getting help”. Let’s end the stigma so we can help fund ending the stigma.

There may be a theoretical approach to comprehensive preventive maintenance of mental health, but there is no system to support it. Anyone of limited means who has recognised the symptoms of what is called mental illness in themselves or a companion will know that short of presentation at A&E, timely treatment for this kind of distress is very hard to come by.

Nonetheless, in the majority of its programming hours — some of which, including the deservedly celebrated Please Like Me, were great television but can never be a great material help — the ABC focused on the individual’s responsibility in the matter of mental health.  And, sure, it would be nice if this trickle-down approach to awareness touched an individual who may have been previously intolerant of their own or another’s mental illness. But it strikes me as very similar to the current barrage of well-meaning statements of tolerance toward Muslims.  If we locate the responsibility for change in individuals, we necessarily overlook the institutional responsibility of government in waging quiet domestic war by means of its anti-terror policy and a rather noisier one in Iraq with the use of its Super Hornets. Surely, there can be no Labor member more conspicuously “aware” than Tanya Plibersek who, as shadow minister for Foreign Affairs, supports the air strikes and anti-terror legislation that would increase the chances for recurrence and prevent reporting of a shameful case like that of Dr Mohamed Haneef.

The appearance of concern can work to obfuscate a real lack of concern. And I’m sure the concern for mental health is very real among those celebrities and programmers who worked to produce the “Mental As” week just as Plibersek’s concern about racism is likely very real. However, this orgy of liberal tolerance satisfies its participants that something has been done. In the meantime, crises continue to detonate without pause or relief. But, there’s no stigma!

This is not to say that the compassion and awareness promulgated by the ABC, and nearly all other media outlets, is in a zero-sum battle for primacy with material services. One can have both. But the ABC, the nation’s biggest employer of journalists, has a responsibility to report not only what “you” can do to “fight the stigma” but what government isn’t doing to treat the symptoms and causes of mental health. And what it isn’t doing is a lot.

In a week full of some pretty gaudy grandstanding talking about what we never talk about (but, in fact, do talk about with unambitious warmth and moral injunctions to “fight the stigma” in media all the frigging time), the only real beneficiaries are the celebs who will be congratulated for their bravery. The denigration of our healthcare system continues apace and in lockstep with the ABC, which continues its slide into grotesque documentary championing of The Power of the Individual.

Like just about every other government funded service, the ABC has begun to embrace the ideology of the individual. And, it’s not just a political objection to the stupidity of its overwhelming post-political programming that I have. It’s an objection to the paucity of thought that informs a growing portion of its broadcast.

Featured image: A still from the ABC “Mental As” week documentary Tempest at the Drop-In.

55 responses to “Razer: Mentally ill need services, not an ABC feel-good week

  1. So you advocate getting stronger drugs commonly prescribed for depression and anxiety, even though the latest research has shown that SSRI’s act as a placebo effect? Pharma has done very little to combat mental distress – although they’ve helped us to identify pathologise any and every human emotion.

    Why not look at justice, employment, human rights, freedom of speech, housing, education and health – instead of pills and pillows for the ever-increasing portion of lost souls. If you don’t have a job or meaningful work, then of course you’re going to feel isolated from you community and have a greater or more frequent experience of the extreme behaviours we’re all capable of. If you’ve been systematically oppressed because of your sexuality, gender, race or religion, then of course you’re going to experience the extreme behaviours of we’re all capable of.

    These TV shows are as much of a band-aid approach as the many mental health services in Australia. Perhaps if these shows offered some hope outside of the very system and clinics that work to stigmatise them, then people might find them helpful. While it’s still legal for your human rights to be revoked during involuntary care, then you can’t expect stigma to be reduced.

  2. Raise awareness? I am haunted by the fate of Monica Chetty. For goodness sake people need somewhere safe to sleep at night. ABC audiences must be negative geared. Raising awareness is a nice way to help the middle class dissociate themselves from the troubles of the peasants.

  3. I realise criticism can be constructive and be a catalyst for improvement but man it’s so tiring sometimes. Can’t we just sit for 5 minutes and say good job! Would you rather the ABC did nothing at all? I think they took a bold step in dedicating the airtime that they did. It was not seen at any other networks. How about saying great effort. The end.

  4. The ABC is a public broadcaster – not a health provider – operating on an amazingly razor thin budget. The commitment to discussion, awareness and frankly breaking down taboos was astounding. I’m perturbed and surprised that anyone could possibly be critical of this.
    Criticise state and federal governments of all stripes as much as you like, but FFS, wasting your time criticising a media organisation for raising money and awareness.
    Frankly, I’m staggered.

  5. As a Mother of a mentally unwell 24 year old, I agree with all Razer has to say. I have been crippled financially paying for treatment. She was so unwell she was unable to even get centrelink benefit.

    I have had to pay over a thousand dollars to Occupational Therapists and to assist her to even obtain a centrelink benefit! the costs of the most basis treatments are astronomical because there is so little support from the government.

    Stupid to talk about raising awareness when all my current insurers refuse to cover me for any mental illness due to anxiety and depression. How does that encourage us to be open about our illnesses.

    Try to get employment if you have ever suffered from mental illness and trying to explain that year or so in your CV where there is no job…It is all a joke frankly & the ABC should be told to pull their well meaning heads in

  6. I have a warped view, as I was a participant in Suicide & Me which aired this week (originally aired in December ’13..it’s on iView if people want to watch it) so before I go on I will table that. However, I feel that I can fly through that small issue.

    I agree whole heartedly that the current access is deploreable. 10 sessions a year is awful. I was on with a psych who wanted fortnightly visits, as she deemed it best for my improvement. Obviously, being lucky and young (still a student) I was on my family’s insurance so would’ve been able to claim most of it back, but those in dire need may not be so lucky. And fortnightly visits seem to be regularly requested – 24 a year. More than twice the governments funding. Hmmm.

    I do not, however, agree with the assertion that Mental Illness is not a popular topic. You’re right to say it’s written about, but on a more personal level, it is very much a difficult, often taboo topic of conversation. Having previously encountered several instances where I was told – not always in such colourful words – to harden the fuck up. I felt my involvement in S+M to be about making people see it is something that they can talk about, to someone (anyone) and hoping to convince them that if someone isn’t listening – to find someone else. And similarly, to people not going through hard-times but approached by someone who was – to listen without judgement. However, that is simply my view based on my experience.

    I am yet to catch up with all the content from the week so can’t go on to discuss individual shows in any depth.

  7. It’s a bit off topic, but i’d just like to say that along with tedious CBT and to a lesser extent pills, your book In Pursuit of Hygiene was a huge help in me finding a place for my mental health issues.

    Thank you!

    And thank you for this piece – after being hospitalised while still under my folks’ private health and then on my own, in the public system, I got a huge shock. One I’ve revisited too many times when trying to facilitate appropriate help for myself or friends in need.

  8. While I was heavily involved in the ABC’s Mental As initiative and therefore am obviously not unbiased or without a conflict of interest, I would like to respond to Helen’s article. I agree 100% with her key point which is that the reality is that most people with mental illness (ironically the more severe forms in particular) do not get timely access to quality 21st century care, which if you can find it, is usually pretty effective as many of the posts illustrate. It is currently a matter of luck and affordability to a large extent. I tried to make this point repeatedly during several interviews during last week. The public mental health system is eroding in most States with disinvestment and a retreat to the super-acute and late intervention models of the 1980s and earlier. Community mental health is shrinking and not able to engage with positive and innovative Federal government mental health initiatives of the past decade or so. So Helen is right to point out the huge paradox between the increased awareness and public support that now does exist as a result of the normalisation of mental ill health (though this has been largely about depression and could be a lot better for more severe illnesses like psychosis, borderline and anorexia for example) and the poor access and quality (including the lack of a holistic approach). This high level of awareness and support as seen in cancer and other medical illnesses does translate into great access, sustained care and high quality. Not so in mental health where there is serious underinvestment. A massive paradox which Helen has highlighted.
    Where I disagree with Helen is that I believe the ABC showed unprecedented national leadership combined with hugely impressive delivery of a whole week of moral support, genuine respect for mentally ill people and information, plus getting conversations going everywhere (including this one). I know this was genuine at all levels of the ABC, from the Managing Director through all staff and the ambassadors. This is potentially very different from what has occurred to date. It means that all people with mental illness and not just depression this time can walk a little taller and count on much more respect. It was greatly appreciated by all mental health professionals too who have been seriously stigmatised as well. It certainly helps me as an advocate for better services. I personally believe that the ABC’s Mental As (only if it becomes an annual event) will help to translate this awareness and respect that Australia undoubtedly now has for people with mental ill health into serious reform, innovation, new financial models and investment in 21st century mental health care, and also much need new research into better treatments (the destination of the funds raised). That is what my colleagues and I are striving to make happen and it will be for me ultimately the test of its value.

  9. The ABC Mental Health Week initiative was good. Sure there were bits and pieces one can question or not like but against the backdrop of the severe underfunding for Mental health services I thought it was an excellent initiative particularly the more extreme scenarios in Liverpool hospital documentary. People were also made aware and not necessarily because they saw anything on the ABC but because some folk were brave enough to mention it in their work place or with friends or they saw ads etc in the digital media world.

  10. Thank you for saying all the things I wanted to say!

    I would take it even one step further:

    “Anyone of limited means who has recognised the symptoms of what is called mental illness in themselves or a companion will know that short of presentation at A&E, timely treatment for this kind of distress is very hard to come by.” There are many people who present at A&E who are severely depressed and suicidal and yet are turned away. Some end up killing themselves.

    This happened to a dear friend of mine a few years ago and I have nearly lost countless other friends of mine who miraculously survived serious suicide attempts.

    If mental health services treated those who were seriously unwell when they sought psychiatric help, then it would save the governments millions of dollars overall by not needing to provide these people with medical help after they have attempted suicide. Those that are lucky enough to survive that is.

    While I thought Changing Minds was well made, it is not a realistic view of most psych wards across Australia. There is horrific abuses going on in Qld hospitals and other states. Changing Minds gives false hope to desperately unwell people that if they go to hospital/ are taken to hospital that they will be treated respectfully. Sadly in Qld hospitals you’re more likely to get bashed and molested by staff than treated with respect.

  11. Thanks Helen for your article,
    As someone who’s been visiting a friend in large mental health facility, I was upset at the personal awareness angle of the week knowing that the hospital is woefully underfunded. The need for other orgs to give mental health advice like keep ‘fit to stay mentally healthy’ was jarring as well knowing that my friend doesn’t have access to many exercise facilities just a small patch of grass and a concrete courtyard.

    1. I can’t believe no one has discussed the ABC RADIO PROGRAMS which aired over the week. There were some excellent serious discussions on Radio National. It’s all very well to knock raising awareness but as a very necessary fraction of the very much bigger whole, raising awareness has it’s place. Pat McGorry on Conversations with Richard Fidler covered the spectrum of where we’ve been in the past and the desperate need for funding. As the mother of a gorgeous boy who could battle no longer and died by suicide in January, I only wish his many friends had seen something like “Mental As” beforehand so they could at least recognise that it was OK to ignore his orders to leave him alone, and seek help before it was too late. I know that the money raised may not be much but if the Headspace people get even a little of it some good has been done.
      Margaret

  12. Ok the ABC could have improved things, but I for one are very glad that there was some highlighting of the issues facing those of us with Mental Illness whether for short or long terms.
    I do get a bit ‘over’ the other organizations who get coverage so (seemingly) easily, but they too have issues for example products/companies turning pink and jumping on cancer bandwagons with out actually providing any assistance – financial or otherwise to the charities involved. The charity dollar is much harder to get which unfortunately results in charities needing to purchase mailing/phoning lists and paying people to fundraise for them – I am really fed up with being accosted by fundraisers harrasing me everytime I go to the station or shopping.
    Money being put to research into the brain is incredibly important and feels overlooked at times – I dream of a day when there are medications or a breakthrough of some sort and often discoveries link to other diseases. It seems that the charities/concerns with the big names representing them or events such as cricket get the coverage and money.
    People with Mental Illness are often the overlooked or isolated until something bad happens (too late), I observe people’s reactions to (obviously to me) mentally ill people that I live amongst in Hawthorn and they are so ignorant and oblivious – understanding and empathy goes a very long way. Raising awareness of needs in our society is very important as we become more isolated in a physical way and shut into the technological world. You don’t see people having conversations on transport anymore, smiling at others on the street, acknowledging our neighbours until we are faced with someone comitting suicide on the train line (‘inconveniences’ us), an overdose, or death of a neighbour.
    I really like the RU OK campaign too, but it must be followed with listening and caring. It is not far to fall from having a job to being homeless, bankrupt etc – it can happen to anyone and is hell – believe me.
    After 28 years, my life is improving finally and I am getting support which to be honest I didn’t think was going to come my way after contact many of the known organisations for help was fruitless. I know there is a lot of under-resourcing but it is difficult to get assistance if you have not been hospitalised and know the questions to ask of Centrelink for example – information is not found easily. Now the government has combined organisations with different client bases together – I admit to feeling a little miffed at being thrown into the same basket as those with intellectual disabilities – each group has different specialised needs and trained staff have been lost to ‘save’ costs.
    Anyway enough from me,
    Keep well and keep fighting for yourself and others – let’s improve things for everyone.
    Thankyou ABC

  13. Some great points here Helen. I don’t watch TV so can’t comment on the programs but was surprised to read that so much seemed to be devoted to just acknowledging mental illness and reducing the stigma when, as you say, mostly the media seems to talk of little else. I have had bi polar for fourteen years now and had over 17 emergency hospitalisations. When I was first diagnosed mental illness wasn’t much mentioned but now it seems to be quite the topic du jour, but the funding for and availability of care is definitely under pressure. There seems to be a real dearth of help outside of the emergency public health system and that is under great strain and can only offer limited assistance. Private cover, in my experience, has been mostly worst than useless.

  14. The Liverpool hospital three part show is being hailed as ground breaking – yet from a consumer POV it presented a deficits based, medical model in wards that were devoid of social workers, consumer workers and psychologists. CTO’s were the outcomes for most, not personal recovery. Some of us also feel that there was a significant power/representation imbalance. Clinicians and nurses were always in the position to present moderated or different behaviour to the camera, but unwell consumers were just stripped raw. I did enjoy Sunday night’s show of a drop in group in St Kilda performing the Tempest though. Bring on Geoffrey Rush as King Lear on the heath, “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
    You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
    Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
    You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
    Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
    Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
    Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
    Crack nature’s moulds, an germens spill at once,
    That make ingrateful man!”

  15. Helen has raised the Elephant in the room. What social/systems environmental factors cause/exacerbate mental health problems aside from toxic work places.

    What is completely missing from most discussions around mental health, mental ill health or however they like to define it is government systems, organisations and policies that cause mental ill health. Single parents shoved onto Newstart by the previous labor government are but one group, long term unemployed is another. How many people of these people have been driven to brink of depression, despair, anxiety, panic and beyond, by our disgraceful *welfare* system and not because they have poor coping skills, negative thoughts about themselves and their situation but by the system itself. A *Welfare* system that provides no welfare and runs like the probation and parole department, with breaches meted out regularly by Centrelink for not showing up to your job search provider even though you may have a genuine reason not to.

    In addition there are Job service providers (JSP) who are merely foot soldiers trained to enforce legislation, not support and or help people into work. Usually they are poorly trained, know little to nothing of the labour market. An unemployed client of one JSP with several degrees from university was asked which TAFE college they got their qualifications from and whether they were same as Cert IV. Not to mention enforced job clubs where unemployed professionals with years of experience, great qualifications outstanding CV’s, who are work ready but who are facing age discrimination in their efforts to find work are forced to sit in job clubs that show them how to write resumes, how to dress for interviews, what to say in an interview. Forced to sit at a computer with a case manager sitting next to them, policing them while they ring employers cold calling for work with organisations that are totally unsuitable for their experience and qualifications, not to mention that cold calling is often draconian, doesn’t work for most professionals and in cases of allied health professionals can work against the unemployed person. Forced to do voluntary work in an organisation that will not reconnect them with potential future work opportunities but rather working behind the counter at Vinnies to be told by your case manager from your job service provider that you are required to do this, because it will provide you with skills to help you find employment. No it won’t. It’s no wonder that most psychologists working in private practice or the local public hospital are overwhelmed with clients presenting with problems around mental health.

    1. I could not agree with you more. Not only do we ignore “what social/systems environmental factors cause/exacerbate mental health problems aside from toxic work places.” – a lot of treatment is premised on ‘rehabilitating’ you to the very sytems and environments that destabilised you in the first place. The individual is regarded as maladaptive and damaged, not the system. :(

  16. I have a proposed true story movie: Snow in The Pocket which deals in some part about the ABC’s appearing to give impartial and equal coverage to political candidates… the appearance has been upgraded since I took both Rob Oakeshott and the ABC to the Court of Disputed Returns following the 2008 by-election for LYNE in NSW. It’s not an easy role but it is the public broadcaster and funded by the taxpayers. Mental health is a serious subject, sometimes assisted by humour… most comedians have come from dark places and times.

  17. As always, the ABC took a non critical, positivist view about mental illness. It therefore ignored its duty to step outside the biomedical bubble and question matters of causation, treatment and recovery. These matters are not settled and in fact beyond the ABC, there is vigorous, ongoing debate. The alternative trauma explanation of mental ill health, for example, as a consequence of the cumulative harm caused by child abuse, challenges the biomedical assumptions that the ABC is ready to accept, without question.

    1. Bravo Stephen – someone finally mentioned child abuse – pervasive and all too often dismissed virtual guarantee of mental health problems. That’s the elephant in the room – more so than poverty for sure and yet it keeps getting swept under the carpet, with the cumulative effects dismissed.

  18. To be fair Helen wasn’t criticising the ABC’s effort per se, just that often these things seem to fade off into the distance without creating the momentum for action as Jack Robertson’s comment regarding “Aged Care Week” illustrates. Talking about stuff helps of course, but not if it dissipates any meaningful follow-up.

  19. For me, the most teeth-grindingly awful aspect of Aunty’s ‘Mental As’ week was the relentless cheer with which the Gardening Australia (a show that usually cheers me up) team announced that ‘gardening is so good for the mental health!’ after, before and during each item. Errrr, quite.

  20. I thought the ABC did a pretty good job. 1000% better than any other media organisation has come up with so far. I don’t know what else the ABC was supposed to do. It isn’t the Government.

  21. as with just about every other bit of outrage rationing/policing h. razer does, i scratch my head here wondering how we go about getting the things she insists – correctly – are the important things (services, policies) without doing the things she insists – maybe not so much – are the wasteful wanky things (campaigning, etc).

    in other words, how do you get services and policies without the constituency that supports them and elects the people to office who will provide / enact them, other than through campaigns such as this?

  22. I also would have really relished a look at the underlying causes of mental illness. Yes poverty is definitely the elephant in the room, but there are many other factors involved. If you look at the historical stats, depression and anxiety are on the increase in all parts of society. And of course stress can be attributed to our ever-increasingly fragmented and isolated lives (less community inclusion, more people living alone, higher work stresses and casualisation of the work force). Looking at 4 corners last night, two-thirds of us in Australia are overweight or obese. Then look at the research which connects our gut flora overwhelmingly to our mental health as most of the seratonin production goes on there, not in our brain. So many possibilities, we really need to think outside the box. Early prevention with screening in our schools, particularly really young children. Even kids not eating breakfast in the mornings, has an effect on school work, has a negative effect on self-esteem, spirals into drugs/substance issues in adolescence, later life ruined or severely compromised.
    This is a big issue (no pun intended Helen)

  23. I disagree. One of the biggest issues with Mental health is not that the services aren’t there, it is that no one is using them in a preventative context. It becomes too late in a crisis situation..you want people to access the services while the symptoms are mild, rather than self medicating with drugs and alcohol as is so often the case and then having a full blown episode.

    Hence these information campaigns are important.. Not to let people know that mental illness exists, but so that they can recognise the warning signs early and know that the services are available to help them or their families

    1. Thank you for your comment. I’d like to briefly share my story if I may.

      All through secondary school, it was obvious something was wrong with me. I saw numerous counsellors, even had a psychological examination (the results made my aunt cry openly), but nobody could actually see early signs of mental illness (though a counsellor did suspect I had schizophrenia because I claimed I could see and hear my imaginary friends, when I meant in my mind, not actually see them). They just put it to constant bullying and the fact my mother passed away.

      Naturally, things escalated and I experienced suicidal thoughts at the age of 17, a year after graduation. It wasn’t until the year after that I was finally diagnosed with depression, and was already on a downhill slope. It didn’t end there. Again, signs were there, but weren’t “seen” until a few years later when I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Avoidant Personality Disorder and a bereavement disorder, on top of possibly having Asperger’s Syndrome. How were these finally recognised despite the signs being there? I was suicidal and had taken to self-harm.

      If they had been able to recognise the signs sooner, I could well be on my way to recovery instead of having relapses and suicidal thoughts and hurting myself.

      That’s why I appreciate anything that brings awareness to it, because I know what it’s like to know something is wrong, nobody listens and it’s only after almost falling over the edge they finally see it too. Not to mention having family who don’t understand and either struggle with seeing what’s happening or are dismissive with thoughts of laziness.

  24. As someone who has been through a mental illness, I don’t know why you’d bother pulling this initiative apart.

    At least they’re doing something, and the variety night, that you seem to love to hate, raised funds for the cause. If you didn’t enjoy it it’s as easy as changing the channel. I appreciate the efforts if the ABC in this instance.

    It’s hard to come to terms with how little this is spoken about when you’re going through it. It’s great to have it put front of mind. I’d love to know what Razor is doing to help provide the much needed resources. I imagine it’s very little if anything at all.

    1. Very much my reaction. ABC’s Mental As week may have been a long way from irreproachable, but it did a fucksight more than any other channel and much more than many a print media outlet. And Razer forgets that the ABC – as a broadcaster (and let alone a public one) – has to make programmes that appeal to as broad an audience as possible. IMO better these programmes draw in as wide an audience as possible so as to get them questioning why mental health is still such a taboo than forsake all but a deeply interested minority in pursuit of ideal analyses. Most of the programmes were useful and one or two – Changing Minds for instance – were excellent. How much more could one ask of a national broadcaster? Seems to me some columnists have to take an antagonistic viewpoint just for the sake of it.

  25. I thought Changing Minds was brilliant. I thought the whole week was fabulous, to be honest, and I reject your criticism outright.

    My family has suffered from the effects of Bipolar Disorder, Depression and other mental illnesses. The conversations and dialogues that resulted from the ABC programming during the week were enormously helpful and cathartic.

    Of course there needs to be more funding for services, and a better system but I find your article very mean spirited and bitchy for the sake of it.
    I Thought the ABC did a great job. I generally tune out of your critiques but finally you have compelled me to finish one and object to it.

  26. “The appearance of concern can work to obfuscate a real lack of concern”

    Great quote which sums up this government and most of the media, and not just about mental health. About anything really.

  27. Good to see some tough appraisal of all the feel-good fiesta of mental health week. Living with a family member with long term depression, I can say that none of it did a skerrick of good. As you say, phoning lifeline for ‘help’ will get you …well, a phone call.
    My major concern is that ‘understanding’ is utterly hollow. What you can do – and you really CAN DO something if you want to – is contact friends, former friends, colleagues who may have dropped out of communication because they are battling mental health problems. Loneliness and isolation are the worst perpetuators of the suffering, and they can be dealt with by a better social environment.

    1. Agree completely, Jay. I’ve been out of work for eighteen months and depression is biting deeply. It’s scary how former friends and colleagues start dropping off at a time when you most need them. Depression may be the common cold of psychiatric illness, but it has the social effect of leprosy.

      1. Hang in there David, and reach out if and when you can. People just do not realise that when someone’s life has flatlined, an invitation to go for a walk or have a cup of coffee can make a really significant difference. If only someone during that week had said that at some stage.

  28. Helen – Nailed it! Seems like many of us are thinking the same thing.

    Getting real help is just hopeless. I gave up years ago. There must be so many others who, like myself, just stay in the house, resigned to the fact that my life will remain shit until I die.

    1. Mate. I’d say “it gets better” but that would be another tedious blandishment. Life is bloody hard and often depression is not so much an illness but a very logical response to conditions. I wish you well and I hope you enjoy, as I do, being a bit of a grump.

  29. Relentlessly spot-on. I’m an Aged & Disability Carer and have found myself just as exasperated by Mental Health week at the ABC as I was six months ago when Aged Care was the Awareness Topic du jour. Back then it was Walkley aspirants playing Gotcha! in the dementia wards and the likes of Ubiquitous Ita doing the Lunching Charity Ladies thing, beating their chests about the need for us to ‘do something’. Gone off the radar now, of course. Give it another twelve months and the next wannabe Woodward & Bernstein crew will return, sneaking about my workplace with their hidden cameras, looking for an arse I’ve forgotten to wipe.

    So many plaintive public cries to do something, so few plain quiet…doing somethings. If the average Q&A audience turned off the box every Monday night and instead each spent just one hour reading aloud to a lonely oldie or ABI at the local Aged Care residence, it would do more in real terms to help out down at the Menial End of civic society than a million awareness-raising words.

    Voting to ditch negative gearing on any more than say one investment property to help fund the NDIS – rather than ditching my penalty rates, for example – wouldn’t hurt either, Baby Boomers.

    One’s breath is bated on both scores.

    Gutsy, focused critique, HR.

    1. Very well said Jack. Don’t give up. Send you reading aloud to the lonely elderly suggestion to Tony. They can add it to their reply to all those would be live audience members who don’t score a place.

  30. Also the previous government reduced the funding for Better Access (Mental Health Care Plan) from 12-18 sessions down to 10, and introduced the ATAPS programme in response to the need for more regional and remote funding via Medicare Locals, then the current government does a ‘review’ and decides to cut funding for that! On top of that you have a health fund like HSC which will not rebate back extras cover for psychological services until they have exhausted the taxpayer sessions through the GP as they will only recognise the criteria of “Mental Illness” for those requiring psychological intervention (sorry if you were wanting to save your marriage with relationship counselling)! Then as a final cherry on the cake, if you have had (ever) sessions with a psych and god forbid you want to take out income insurance (in these anxious times) or life or travel insurance then you WILL be discriminated against with higher premiums or outright refusal. But thank dog we all have our awareness raised!

  31. I would love to see Changing Minds made into a series. It was that good. I didn’t really get The Friday Night Crack Up! I think it was good to get the conversation going and many friends, I believe, now have a slightly better idea of what I am going through when I am manic. Also what I may be up to when I disappear into hospital for 5 weeks at a time.

    My experience with the public mental health system has largely been positive here in South Australia. I don’t really care that some of the facilities may be a bit run down. They keep me safe, feed me, make sure I take my medication then get me well enough to try and face the world again. I hate sharing a room when I am in C3 but beggars can’t be choosers as they say.

    The Southern Intermediate Care Center is awesome but you can only stay for two weeks and there is no access to a Psychiatrist or a Psychologist because you are only meant to be slightly unwell. I wish there was an acute facility like this.

    This was a great article Helen. I hope you are well.

    Clayton (Bipolar).

  32. As for the “Neville” – Access to Psychological therapies can be a bit hit and miss. I was referred to a lovely lady in Toorak who attempted to hypnotise me out of my sleep problems after I told her there was no way I was going to waste my time with Dream Analysis (really, aren’t we over this Freudian bs by now). Of course it didn’t work. Better was the social worker who came to me every week after I left (private) hospital but she couldn’t change much, she was just good to talk to. In the long run it’s been medical intervention – yep big old bad pharma which has got me well. That and a good Psychiatrist who has helped me through the trial and error of finding out what meds would work for me.

    1. Yep, I found the whole article a bit bitchy. The week was to highlight mental health as a national issue. I feel they at least “made a pretty good effort”. Considering the other channels did very little to highlight mental health for MH Week. Well Done ABC. It seems there is more education of the public needed to reduce the stigma. Very sad.

  33. Apart from “Changing Minds” which was an excellent program I found the content to be a bit ‘meh’ as well. I’m over “raising awareness”. I’m also over band-aid programs that advocate things like gardening or surfing to treat mental illness although I have used them in the past – yes they are worthy or nice but I’d like to see the money go to the pointy end so that when someone turns up to emergency at 2 in the morning and is suicidal they don’t just get a packet of valium and sent home with a family member or friend who has to cop the burden of care. My advice to anyone with serious mental health issues is to get top level private health hospital cover for starters and go from there, the public system is great for diseases like breast cancer but when it comes to mental health they are so overburdened it’s just not funny.

    1. Oh Helen, music to my yearning ears. You are soooo right. I have worked in acute public mental health services for 30 years and watched what were once reasonable integrated services that provided treatment, day programs, supported accommodation and employment systematically and increasingly lose their funding to yep! you nailed it! PR campaigns for the mental health awareness of the masses. Leaving people with serious mental illness to ride the buses just for something to do, no professional case manager rather, some untrained faith based worker to ‘take them shopping’, Russian Roulette in the housing stakes; homeless or stuck in overcrowded social housing where there is just so much distress, poverty and subsequent unrest that nobody including the workers want to visit there. Nurses are no longer specially trained in mental health so the stigma and lack of competency in specific mental health nursing is skyrocketing leaving those seeking treatment and care to run the gauntlet of untrained security guards, seclusion, restraint and sometimes overmedicating. All nurses need to be trained in mental health first aid cos yes, someone with schizophrenia might need a knee replacement or to have a baby. Mental health needs to have its federal minister restored (Abbott in his wisdom thought to dump the portfolio with the Coalition MH policy consisting of on-line learning and self help groups- Really!!!). Real funding needs to go directly (Yea, Helen!) into free that is. read it, public DIRECT care services to support and care for people with serious mental illness. Currently, they rarely get follow up when the are discharged from hospital and there is often a 6-8 month wait for a case manager. 25 years ago your case manager took you to hospital, met with the staff to plan your admission and discharge and often took you home again or at least visited you on your first day or two home to make sure you had milk in the fridge and no problems with your medication. There is sadly also a serious disconnect between those entrusted with the administration of mental health services, over bureaucratised and politicised but have no genuine understanding of how the decisions they make play out in the local health district hospitals and community services.
      We are so over the precious dollars being spent on ‘raising awareness’ and people getting celebrity credit points for “talking about mental health” while doing little else. I support these campaigns but not without the much needed advocacy work being done. Please can they ring up the mental health minister and demand real action.
      Lobby and pressure the government for funding to desperately needed public mental health treatment beds, case managers and day programs that provide person centred care where people with mental health problems can get on with their lives like everyone else.

      1. I am hopeful that the ABC responsibly committing air time (more please, how about a series?) will convert the wider public into seeing the importance of good professional care and VOTE accordingly…

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