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According to the World Health Organisation, globally there are over 970 million people who suffer from mental illnesses. In Australia alone, over 8 million or 2 in 5 Aussies suffer from a mental illness. But there exists a stigma surrounding mental health that is so widespread that it prevents people from seeking care.

This can have a devastating effect on our lives, our families, and even our greater communities. So what’s there to do? Well, if you, or someone you know, has a mental health condition but is hesitant to talk to you or others, then the best place place to start would be with a counsellor.

Over 700,000 people die to suicide every year. This makes it the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. By accepting that mental illness is real and dangerous, we can help get rid of the self-stigma that mental illnesses create and save lives.

The vicious cycle of mental health conditions

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In many countries and cultures, mental illness is not recognised as a real illness. In some cultures, mental wellbeing can even be a foreign concept. These perceptions can lead to the individual covering it up, feeling guilty, or refusing to find a counsellor.

As a result of this, many people don’t acknowledge they need care, or that it may help. Throughout all of Australia only 7% of adults seek care from mental health practitioners like psychologists.

But mental illness is not a figment of someone’s imagination, nor is it a sign of weakness. And seeking help should never be something to be afraid of.

Here are some truths about mental health and counselling that may surprise you:

  • People with mental illness can function well in workplaces and lead productive lives. They can learn how to manage their symptoms so they can complete their goals like working, volunteering, and contributing to their community.
  • Many mental health conditions can be treated and cured. When treated early and appropriately, many people make a full recovery. Others may find that their condition recurs throughout life and involves ongoing treatment.
  • People with mental health don’t display higher rates of absenteeism when compared to people with chronic physical conditions.
  • Studies have shown that people with mental illness are not less capable or intelligent than those without. In fact, they tend to be equal with the average person or even higher.
  • Most people with mental illness are not violent. Violent behaviour often stems from a past history of violence and criminality, not from mental illness. It’s also worth understanding that people affected by mental illness are 10 times more likely to be the victims of violence than be the perpetrators.

How can I be a mental health ally?

Before you can begin to dispel the stigma, you must know your own hidden biases. Look below for the most common myths and misconceptions around mental health. While reading these ask yourself:

  • Have I encountered prejudice that prevented me from looking for counsellors near me?
  • Was I the cause of this prejudice against someone else?
  • Have I avoided looking for counselling near me to my own detriment?
  • If I look for a counsellors near me, am I more likely to schedule regular appointments?
  • Have my actions had a negative impact on another person’s health and wellbeing?
  • How can I be supportive and help a loved one find counselling near me?

When it comes to physical trauma and illness, its easier to be accepting because we can see the physical signs and symptoms. With mental illness, we’re often quick to dismiss it as being made up or imaginary. But mental health is very real.

How can I help a friend or family member who is dealing with a mental illness through counselling?

Friends and family are critical components in an affected person’s life. You can help someone who has a mental health condition in these ways:

  • Reach out to them and let them know you’re here for them.
  • Ask them how they are and check in with them regularly.
  • Help them find a counsellor online or nearby.
  • Help them talk to a counsellor.
  • Listen to them without judgment.
  • Do not define them by their diagnosis or symptoms.
  • If you hear anything like self stigma from them, discuss mental health facts.
  • Encourage and support them to seek care from qualified practitioners like psychologists, psychotherapists, and counsellors.

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