Sonia Neale is a media savvy advocate who has experienced mental illness.
She said, “The reason I do this, the reason I tell my story, is that I want to normalise mental illness”.
Ms Neale is also campaigning against planned cuts to Better Access – a broad Government scheme aimed at giving people access to psychologists.
“Just because you have a mental illness it doesn’t mean you are mentally deficient in any way”, says Ms Neale – twice pointing out that being able to talk about her problems transformed her into a consistent “tax payer”.
Mental illness affects 1 in 5 Australians. The ABS 2011 Causes of Death report ranks suicide between breast cancer and land transport accidents. People close to the issue – advocates and ordinary folk alike – say they want more reporting around mental health but note the importance of getting it right.
Mindframe is a 10-year-old Government initiative aimed at delivering resources to journalists and other communicators so they can be confident when dealing with mental illness and suicide. People don’t want reports that stigmatise mental illness but “they absolutely want to see more media coverage”, says Mindframe Program Manager, Jaelea Skehan. She said it’s incumbent on the mental health field to provide reporters with access to people who can share their journeys of difficulty responsibly and with support. In her role Ms Skehan has worked with over 4000 journalists. She said she could only remember 5 who were not interested in mental health.
Rural Mental Health – an online discussion hub – and Mindframe recently convened a Twitter chat on mental health and the role of the media. Mike Stuchbery, Melbourne-based teacher, writer, and occasional broadcaster, tweeted:
“When it’s done, discussion of mental health is usually done very well. I just wish it was more regular.”
Touting a reason for a perceived lack of reporting on mental health, he tweeted:
“Well, to be utterly mercenary/crass, it’s not very sexy, is it?”
PR Manager for Baptcare – a Christian not-for-profit support service for the disadvantaged –, Georgina Liew, replied:
“I agree but I’ve also had experience of clients sharing & then shortly after regretting it…makes it hard.”
Another concern expressed by tweeters – made up of advocates, journalists, and ordinary people – was the planned cuts to Better Access. Measures that would see the maximum allowable visits with a Medicare-funded psychologist reduced from 18 to 10. According to them, cuts to the program will harm people’s ability to access adequate psychological care.
Practicing psychologist and Chair of the Association of Counselling Psychologists, Ben Mullings, said:
“Research has consistently shown that people need to be offered at least 15 to 20 sessions, even for mild to moderate cases of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder”.
Promoted alternatives to Better Access, such as Government-funded psychiatric services or the ATAPS scheme, are incomplete, Mr Mullings said. Psychiatrists “are so thin on the ground” it can take up to six months to get a session, he said.
ATAPS – Access to Allied Psychological Services – enables certified GPs to refer certain groups of people with mental health disorders to low cost psychological services. Dr Simon Cowap, a Sydney-based GP who works with Headspace – the National Youth Mental Health Foundation – said ATAPS is not an alternative to Better Access, it is complimentary. He said ATAPS is a more targeted initiative and noted his group ran out of ATAPS funding well before the end of the last financial year.
Sonia Neale says through Better Access she was able to access 18 sessions a year with a psychologist and that is when her “mental health improved exponentially”. Ms Neale said it can take years for the root cause of a person’s issues to be discovered and dealt with, adding:
“A person can’t just go into therapy and say they were sexually abused when they were 12 and therefore at age 30 they have an eating disorder.”
For Ms Neale, making the connection takes time because often underlying problems have been hidden for years. “People in the media seem to understand that mental illness is a big issue”, she said, and talks positively about her interview experiences. Ms Neale says she enjoys “de-stigmatising” mental illness and wants to encourage responsible conversation about it.
I spoke with Sonia Neale about her experience and the proposed funding cuts to Better Access.
I also spoke with Program Manager for Mindframe, Jaelea Skehan, about the role of the media.
For support please contact any of the following services.
Lifeline (24 hours) 13 11 14
Kids Helpline – 24 hours, for young people aged 5 to 25 years 1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia (24 hours) 1300 78 99 78
SANE Helpline – mental illness information, support and referral 1800 18 SANE (7263)
Reach Out – Interactive website for young people http://www.reachout.com
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
beyondblue 1300 224 636