Breaking the Stigma on Therapy
By R. S. Drain
If you scrolled through Instagram on the 10th of October 2019, you would have come across an interesting phenomenon. Taking a break from the usual unending flow of selfies and memes emerged a myriad of posts discussing and promoting ways to receive help for mental health, all from popular and trusted celebrities, decorated with the hashtag #mentalhealthday.
Mental Health Day is not a new concept, however. It began simply as an annual activity generated by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) in 1992. The central activity of the first three years was a two-hour television broadcast, where members of the WFMH were at the ready to answer live telephone calls. The day soon evolved, into a multitude of conferences, meetings, broadcasts and community celebrations. A theme was eventually chosen: ‘’ Improving the Quality of Mental Health Services throughout the World’’, and positive feedback quickly was received from 27 countries including Australia and England. One historically important event occurred at the site of the old London mental hospital, where many volunteers, school children and young people with learning difficulties planted spring bulbs.
With the heavy gust of social media under its wings, the day has risen to new heights and received more awareness than ever. The focus this year was on Suicide Prevention and with such a poignant and heavy theme, its importance was only enriched.
Some prominent examples of celebrities supporting the cause were those of Sam Smith, a famous singer who shared an original poem sharing his history of anxiety and how reconnecting with his family helped, Ed Sheeran and Prince Harry, who collaborated to poke fun at their mutual redheads and then shared a long list of resources and therapy centres to help those who are struggling, Bella Hadid, an international supermodel who spoke about her experiences with depression, and Jameela Jamial, a comedian who is known for her honesty, opened up about a suicide attempt from six years ago and her experiences with eating disorders.
Dr Drew Pinky, a professional psychiatrist, responded to the popular hashtag with praise, saying that the celebrities stories were an ‘’Opportunity to reduce stigma, reduce fear, reduce the shame of an ordinary person- not a celebrity- managing the problem.’’
These stories are monumentally important for their fans to hear, especially their young fans who may be suffering from mental health issues.Selena Gomez’s message that ‘’you do not need to stay broken’’ was a powerful moment of change, in which the strife’s of mental illness was pushed into the spotlight, and helped remove the stigma surrounding therapy.
Some other ways mentioned in which people can get help include:
Therapy, including free services such as headspace and black dog.
Participating in physical activity
Take a break and visit family and friends
Confronting your own imposters’ syndrome
Take a break from Social Media
Further, celebrities over the past few years have run mental health awareness campaigns, that is slowly helping break the stigma surrounding all types of mental illnesses and disorders. Examples of this include Demi Lovato who is the spokesperson for is Be Vocal which an initiative encouraging people across America to use their voice in support of mental health.
Be Vocal aims to empower adults living with mental health conditions to speak up when talking with their professional support team and to speak up as a community to advance mental health in America.Others include Brittany Snow who co founded Love is louder campaign which aims to make the world more connected and supported or Lady Gaga who founded the Born thisWay Foundation in 2012 with the goal of creating a kinder and braver world. They seek to support the mental and emotional wellness of young people by putting their needs, ideas, and voices first.
There are countless other examples of celebrities and influential people doing the same. They are slowly helping break the stigma on therapy and asking for help, little by little. As millions of young people look up to celebrities and influential people across the world, the more who are honest and open about their personal struggles, the more the stigma will change.
Australia, as a society, still seems to view therapy as a taboo topic. We rarely if ever have a discussion with our mates about their mental health and how we can get help. However, Australia does have a mental health problem and a big one. 45% of Australians in their lifetime will experience a mental disorder in their lifetime, with only a third of these people EVER going to get professional treatment. In our society today, there is shame in going to get help. Even if we talk about it frequently at school and all of us know the ways to access help, we won’t go.
Going to therapy isn’t normal. It makes you weird. It makes you weak.
That is what so many young people in Australia think today. Except this needs to change. More young people who have gotten treatment for mental disorders need to come forward and share their stories. Australian youth (18-24 years old) have the highest prevalence of mental illness than any other age group. Data from the 2014 Mission Australia’s Youth Survey showed that around one in five (21.2%) of young people (15-19 years old) met the criteria for a probable serious mental illness. These statistics show the importance of breaking the stigma with it being found that over 75% of people being admitted to public health sector mental health inpatient services improve dramatically.
Going to therapy doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you weird. It makes you anything but. It makes you brave. It makes you vulnerable. It makes you human.
That is the message we need to send to all Australians too ashamed to access therapy.
Celebrities speaking out is helping a lot to break the stigma, but we need ordinary people to speak up as well, We need to make it normal for an everyday person
But why is it so important for celebrities to talk about their own mental illness?
It is important because it lets people feel free to discuss their own issues and to attend therapy. Even though you may think you know anyone struggling with depression or anxiety, there is a great chance that you do. In Australia - as said mentioned above, 45% experience a mental disorder in their lifetime, including 14% of kids aged 4-17 (560,000 people) who experience a mental disorder. In 2017, 3,128 Australians self-harmed and 94.2% of them experienced mental illness in 12 month period prior to self-harming. The Australian Population lost approximately 542,554 hours of healthy life as a result of mental and substance abuse disorders and $56.7 billion loss as a result of a loss of work productivity and health and services provided.
These are some shocking statistics, and Australians deserve better than to feel trapped in their own heads.
As Russel Wilson said: “If we start being honest about our pain, our anger, and our shortcomings instead of pretending they don’t exist, then maybe we’ll leave the world a better place than we found it.”