ARARAT - One of the positives to come out of Ararat's 'Start talkin' about mental health' campaign is that people are beginning to openly discuss mental health issues in the community.
The 'Start talkin' about mental' health campaign was launched in October last year after community leaders in the Ararat region joined forces with the aim of de-stigmatising mental illness and promoting positive mental health and wellbeing.
A spate of suicides in the region prompted Ballarat Health Services Mental Health Services to form an Ararat committee to launch the community based social marketing campaign which would encourage individuals and their family members to 'Start talkin' about mental health'.
The three aims were to:
Increase the Ararat community's ability to identify the key signs of a mental illness.
Increase the Ararat community's knowledge of where and how to access a range of mental health support services.
Encourage early treatment seeking behaviours within the community.
While mental illness still appears to attract a stigma in the Ararat region, family consultant with Ballarat Health Services Mental Health Services Jackie Crowe said the campaign so far had been successful.
"People are talking about it more, people are wanting to do something about it. 'How can we help?' has been the biggest thing we've heard. We're really pleased," Ms Crowe said.
Early in the campaign a survey was sent out to 3000 Ararat and district residents, with 180, or six percent, being returned.
Among the goals of the survey were to collect a broad overview of issues from the perspective of the community in regard to people knowing the early signs of mental illness and people knowing where to access mental health services in Ararat.
The majority of respondents were in the 40 to 64 year age bracket.
One of the questions asked whether people would know what to do if early mental health conditions started to emerge, with 46 percent of respondents claiming they would not know what to do.
"It was what our anecdotal evidence indicated ... that people's understanding of mental illness and the early signs of mental illness was pretty low in our community. We had that anecdotal evidence and now have the proof," Ms Crowe said.
In relation to people's knowledge of the early signs of mental illness, Ms Crowe said it was interesting that there were 16 different reasons given, but again it was disturbing that 19 percent said they weren't sure, which again was consistent with anecdotal evidence.
Another question asked if people needed to find help for someone with mental illness, would they know where to go.
"We were really pleased that 73 percent knew to go to a GP ... which is really good, and 10 per cent thought they could contact psychiatric services. I guess the concerning part is that seven per cent and the rest (16 percent) of our community said they really didn't know where to go," Ms Crowe said.
Ms Crowe said what was interesting was that even though people knew to go to a GP, when the question asked what would they do to help someone suffering a mental illness, 27 percent said 'just to talk to them'. Two percent said to find out more about the problem.
"I guess that's a good starting point, but a pretty low starting point," she said.
Ms Crowe said the results of the survey backed up anecdotal evidence collected.
"So it's given us encouragement that we are doing the right thing and we're going to keep going with it," she said.
Although largely positive, there have also been negative responses to the campaign in the community.
"One thing that has been disappointing is that there has been some negativity in the community," Ms Crowe said.
"So when we go to places to ask whether we can do this or work with you in this way it's been 'No'. There is still that stigma in the community.
"Our local businesses have been terrific in supporting us but there is still that percentage of people who have said 'no'."
Apart from the survey, the campaign has also involved local schools, with barbecues and information days proving successful, while this year information will go out in school newsletters.
"What I have noticed is that schools are just so welcoming.We shouldn't have been surprised about that. It's been really encouraging that the schools have done that," Ms Crowe said.
This year more school activities are planned, with submissions currently before funding bodies with the aim of running a youth festival and another festival during Mental Health Week.
The future beyond the campaign also looks promising, with a number of support groups to start up in the Ararat area.
Ms Crowe said there was already a suicide bereavement group and it was hoped to start a Mental Health and Dual Diagnosis (drug and alcohol) Group.
"People are saying to us that the drug and alcohol component is quite huge in Ararat and so they want to do something with that, so in February we're starting a Mental Health and Dual Diagnosis Group to tackle some of those issues. That will be ongoing," Ms Crowe said.
There is also currently a Mental Health Carers' Group which is strong and will continue. It is also hoped to start a Suicide Awareness Committee in the region, similar to one which operates in Ballarat and works closely with police.
With the spike in suicides prompting the launch of the campaign, positive results from the campaign are evident in that numbers in the Suicide Bereavement Group had not extended since then.
"So I guess we could say that suicides haven't spiked again, " she said.
With Ararat and district people beginning to talk about mental health issues, Ms Crowe said she was pleased with the mostly positive results received from the community.
"We have noticed a lot more people talking about it, just in general. There have also been a lot more people getting in touch with Sue Muller (consumer consultant with BHS MHS) and myself ... so that's been a pleasing thing to come out of it as well," Ms Crowe said.
"It's what we wanted so we're really pleased about that."
For further information about the campaign, contact Ms Crowe or Ms Muller on 5320 4100.