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Coming together to make mental health a priority

From left, community ambassador Yenn Purkis, supporter Aunty Violet and acting CEO Corinne Dobson.

Mental health conditions are more common than asthma or arthritis, with one in 10 Canberrans having a long-term condition and one in five Australians experiencing mental ill health each year. That’s why Canberrans are being urged to make mental wellbeing a priority this October for Mental Health Month.

CORINNE Dobson, acting CEO of the Mental Health Community Coalition ACT (MHCC ACT), says that coming together to discuss mental health is even more important this year.

“Amongst the trauma we have experienced with the pandemic, we have realised just how important community is for our happiness and sense of security,” she says.

“We can all take steps to maintain and boost not just our own mental wellbeing but also that of those around us.” 

This year, Mental Health Month ACT will focus on raising awareness of mental wellbeing, fostering a sense of belonging in our communities and networks, and developing connections to help us stay happy and healthy.

Throughout October, there will be a wide variety of community events, including an online Mental Health & Wellbeing Expo. 

Canberrans can also follow the Mental Health Trail of daily activities and make mental health a priority at work by hosting a Wellbeing Priori-Tea, either virtually or in person.

Anyone holding a Wellbeing Priori-Tea event can register to receive resources to help organise their event and make their workplace mentally healthy.

This year, five community ambassadors with lived experience of mental health conditions and five high-profile supporters have come on board to promote positive mental health.

Mental Health Month Community Ambassador Yenn Purkis is an author and advocate who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1995.

“I spent 10 years of my life in various institutions: hospitals, residential mental health services and prisons. It took me a long time to accept my diagnosis, but I have become mostly okay with it,” Yenn says. 

“I am now an author and public servant. I am living proof that a person with schizophrenia, and all my other diagnostic labels, can overcome great challenges to lead a good life.” 

Mental Health Month Supporter, Ngunnawal elder Aunty Violet Sheridan, believes we need to consider the language we use when we discuss mental health conditions and stop reinforcing negative stereotypes and stigma.

“It makes people scared,” Aunty Violet says, “and then they don’t get support, and things get worse.” 

According to Corinne, one way to combat this stigma is to speak about mental wellbeing as we do physical health.

“We can all prepare ourselves to prevent or minimise potential injuries, seek treatment when we’re hurt, and take time to care for ourselves and others while recovering,” she says.

“Unfortunately, most focus and government funding are on acute care, instead of programs designed to stop people from getting to crisis point or helping them recover and lead fulfilling lives in our community.

“We all have a role in making mental health a priority, by looking after ourselves and our loved ones and raising awareness of the need for a shift in focus.”

Funded by ACT Health and run by MHCC ACT, Mental Health Month ACT is held each October to raise community awareness and understanding of mental health, reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health conditions, and promote positive mental health and wellbeing.

The Mental Health Month ACT calendar of events is at mentalhealthmonthact.org/calendar

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