When the media reported in September 2015 that AFL star Lance Buddy Franklin would not play finals football due to a mental illness the majority of the football public were shocked. This was something completely different. It is so unusual for an elite sportsman to be ruled out of competition due to a mental health condition.
Suddenly mental illness became part of the conversation and we were forced to evaluate our attitudes. It is common for people with a mental illness to encounter stigma and discrimination but would this be Buddy Franklin’s experience? Here was a person with a high profile in the sporting world, who enjoyed a wide base of support and who had the financial means to pay for any appropriate treatment. Nonetheless, there were those in the wings who wanted an explanation at any cost and gave little thought to the personal challenges faced by the individual in addressing their mental health issues.
This exposure in the media to mental illness had a positive flow on and proved to be instructive.
We learnt that mental illness does not discriminate. You can be young, successful, rich, and handsome, with an attractive partner, enjoying a comfortable life, as was the case with Buddy Franklin, but still be vulnerable.
It is estimated that approximately 20 per cent of the Australian population will experience mental illness in any given year. Further, two to three per cent of Australians (about 600,000 people) are thought to have a severe mental disorder which is defined as including severe depression, anxiety or psychosis.
We learnt that with the right support we can open up about our mental health issues. Too often people are afraid to talk about their experiences because they fear it will affect their jobs or relationships.
We know that prejudice, ignorance and fear still exist in our communities and that these attitudes hinder people with a mental illness making friends, holding down a job, keeping fit, staying healthy – living a normal life.
We learnt that the stigma surrounding mental illness is real and continues to be a significant barrier causing feelings of isolation, worthlessness, and shame.
Matt Streuli, actor, Youtuber and mental health activist reminds us that people are scared to openly talk about their mind because of stigma. Matt says,”Stigma is when you are injured and rather than a get well card, you are told to ‘cheer up’. Stigma is people avoiding you or unwilling to ask of how you are. “
Matt talks openly about his personal journey. He argues that we need to engage with each other and take the time to talk.
“My mental health problems bubbled under the surface until last year, difficulties at work snowballed and I tried to kill myself. It was as though there was a different version of me taking over, one who couldn’t step back and think logically.
Everyone has ups and downs and talking about them, sharing them, is a key role in recovery but also preventative care.”