The Health and Lifestyles Survey (HLS) looks at New Zealanders’ attitudes to a range of health topics, including mental illness. In 2014, it asked respondents about their attitudes to people experiencing mental illness, using the scenario of the opening of a community mental health centre in their neighbourhood. They were asked if they would be comfortable if the centre was: a) in their suburb?; b) a couple of blocks away from them?; c) on their street?; and d) next door to them?
Around 75 per cent of those surveyed said they were most comfortable with the health centre being located in their suburb. However, only 30 per cent would be happy to have the health centre located next door to them.
Virginia MacEwan, Manager of Mental Health for the Health Promotion Agency, says discrimination and social exclusion can exacerbate the distress felt by people experiencing mental illness.
“Most of us are really sensitive to how people see us. Discrimination affects people’s confidence and self-esteem. It can mean that people withdraw from situations for fear of being excluded again, so they miss out.
“Experiencing discrimination can mean people experiencing mental distress may withdraw from work and community interactions, sometimes to the point that they find it hard to ask for help,” MacEwan says.
“The more we exclude people because of mental distress, the more it becomes a problem, and it can mean a much longer recovery time.”