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Shining a light on complex mental health issues

While the world has come a long way in the public discussion of mental health issues, particularly in regard to depression and anxiety, there still remains a fair amount of stigma surrounding more complicated, complex mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, personality disorder and psychosis.

Speaking on The Wellness Daily Show, deputy CEO of SANE Australia Michelle Blanchard shone a light on the more complex mental health conditions that are often ignored in public discourse and still carry a great deal of stigma.

Ms Blanchard highlighted that some forms of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, have come a long way in reducing the public stigma that exists around mental health. However, many of the more complex mental health conditions have not achieved the same improvement when it comes to public awareness and understanding.

“I think mental health is inherently complex. It’s something that intersects with so many different aspects of our day-to-day lives,” Ms Blanchard said.

She highlighted the types of illnesses that could be classified as more complex mental health issues, such as psychosis, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, OCD and debilitating anxiety and depression that limits a person’s ability to participate in all the things that they would like to.

Currently, there are 690,000 Australians who live with these kinds of complex mental health issues, across all demographics. However, there are some factors, including childhood trauma, that may increase someone’s likelihood of developing a complex mental health disorder, according to Ms Blanchard.

She stated that these types of mental illnesses still experience a significant amount of stigma, which can manifest in a few different ways.

“We talk about self-stigma, which is the sense that you have about yourself, if you yourself have a mental health problem. 

“[And then] we talk about perceived stigma, which is when you have a mental health problem yourself and you perceive that youre going to be stigmatised by the people around you. And so the consequence of that might be that people dont put themselves forward for relationships, for job opportunities, because they believe that they might be discriminated against. 

“Theres then public stigma, which is the one that we probably hear about most often, which is the sense that the general community have a poor view of people living with mental health issues.

“And then the final one is around structural stigma or discrimination. And thats behavior by institutions or organisations that ultimately means that people with mental illness dont participate fully in society.”

In order to address the ongoing issue of stigma and discrimination felt by people who face mental health issues that may be more complex than those with depression and anxiety, Ms Blanchard discussed the new SANE campaign called Our Turn To Speak.

“Our Turn to Speak is about listening to the voices of people who have experienced a complex mental health issue, [and] its part of a larger project called the National Stigma Report Card. 

“We set it up because we had a hunch that people who experience more complex mental health difficulties experienced stigma and discrimination in really different ways to perhaps people who have more common mental health problems like depression or anxiety.”

In attempting to tackle ongoing stigma, the SANE project dives deep into those stigmas across 14 different life domains.

“Its everything from the way in which people might be treated when theyre entering a new relationship, or by members of their family,” Ms Blanchard said. 

“It might be how theyre responded to when they disclose in a workplace that they have a mental health problem and might need a bit of extra help and support.”

One domain of note is how people with complex mental health conditions get treated when seeking out physical health care.

“So we know that people who experience more complex mental health concerns often dont have their physical health concerns taken seriously because its assumed that its all related to their mental health problem. 

“So these are the kinds of things that impact peoples lives.”

Ms Blanchard highlighted that, like all mental illnesses, it is hard to know whether someone is suffering from complex mental health problems.

“For the most part, you cant tell that someone has a mental illness by looking at them because mental illnesses are often about the kinds of thoughts and feelings we have,” she said.

“But sometimes people might behave a little bit differently if theyre affected by a complex mental health concern.”

This might include someone interacting with a person or situation that is not real, having very obvious mood swings, or other symptoms that affect their functionality and/or personality.

“However, for the most part, particularly if that persons mental illness is being really well managed and there are many people who are affected by these complex mental health issues who live very normal lives and you perhaps wouldnt know by looking at them,” Ms Blanchard said.

If you are concerned that someone in your life is suffering from a complex mental illness, Ms Blanchard encourages you to reach out and support them.

“The best thing to do is just to let the person know that youre a bit concerned about them, that there are some things that youve noticed that perhaps are a bit unusual or a bit different and just check in and see how that persons going,” she said.

“And if they indicate that they are struggling and theyre looking for some help and support, assist them to be able to reach out, whether its to a general practitioner, whether its by calling a service like SANEs helpline or jumping on our online peer support forums. 

“Really just supporting them to take that next step and get the help and support that they need.”

More broadly, Ms Blanchard told The Wellness Daily Show that she believes the way to bust through the stigma on complex mental health issues is to start having conversations about them.

“I think the best thing we can do is be more open around a range of experiences people might have around their mental health and wellbeing. 

“One of the challenges is that because these more complex conditions are stigmatised, perhaps more so than things like depression and anxiety, there are fewer people talking about it publicly, which means that for people who are experiencing these conditions, it can be quite challenging to be open about them.”

She continued: “And there is a little bit of a sense that these more complex conditions are left out of your standard workplace wellbeing programs or arent as part of the public conversation as they should be.

“So, the more we can kind of be open to the possibility that people might be having a broader range of experiences, I think the more open people are going to be. And hopefully thats helpful for them in their recovery.”

You can contact SANE Australia at, or call 1800 18 7263.

To listen to Michelle Blanchard’s full conversation with Wellness Daily senior writer Jerome Doraisamy, click below:

This episode of The Wellness Daily Show contains content which some may find confronting or distressing. If you are in need of support, you can contact the following crisis services:
Lifeline, 13 11 14,
Suicide Call Back Service, 1300 659 467,

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