Overcoming stigma in education and training

Taking part and progressing in education and training is critical to economic, social and cultural participation. For many Australians, engaging with education and training (in both formal institutions and informal settings) builds their sense of self-worth and is critical for progressing in their chosen career. 
Flourish Australia knows that many people with lived experience of a complex mental health issue, encounter disruptions to their education, which can impact their goals and desired career path. These interruptions can be caused largely by stigma and a lack of understanding in education and training settings of how to support students effectively.

According to SANE’s "National Stigma Report Card" survey, many people living with a complex mental health issue have recently experienced and anticipate experiencing stigma and discrimination related to their mental health in their education and training. Almost two-thirds of survey respondents said that they had stopped themselves from applying for or participating in education and training because of this stigma. These issues are amplified for people who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.  

For many people with lived experience of a complex mental health issue, the rigidness and inflexibility of many educational institutions is a key driver of stigma and exclusion. Many respondents struggled with the strict attendance requirements and deadlines and felt that the institution wasn’t very accommodating or flexible when considering supporting their needs.  

The report has recommended three main ways that educational institutions can better include and support people with experiences of complex mental health issues.  

Firstly, within the educational setting, there should be more support available - for students and all academic, professional and support staff. There should also be more work going into promoting these services and creating smooth pathways for people to access the services.  

Second, capacity-building training informed by a strengths-based approach should be provided for educational staff to better understand, recognise, and support the needs of people living with a complex mental health issue. This will help the institution raise its awareness and literacy on mental health.  

Lastly, educational institutions should revise its special consideration criteria to ensure that the criteria include options tailored to the needs of students living with a complex mental health issue. This will help break down the rigidness of many of these institutions’ requirements, allowing them to be more flexible and inclusive.  

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