Overcoming stigma in sports, community groups and volunteering

Australians have a proud culture of participating in sports, community groups and volunteering. Participating in these activities has a wide range of benefits including staying active, social inclusion and strengthening a sense of belonging and connectedness. These benefits are all critical to recovery of those with a lived experience of a complex mental health issue. 

However, according to SANE’s "National Stigma Report Card" survey, many people living with  a complex mental health issue experience and worry about experiencing stigma and exclusion in our sporting clubs, community groups and in different volunteering positions. According to the report, this is amplified in rural and remote areas. Many survey respondents told stories about how if they needed to miss a training or a volunteering shift because their mental health can evolve over time, their commitment was perceived to be "lower". 

The report has made three main recommendations for action to tackle stigma, so we can all enjoy the social and physical benefits of being involved, regardless of our lived experience. 

Firstly, influential, and elite sporting codes should invest in understanding, and raising awareness about, the full continuum of mental health experiences. These discussions should take place with their players, supporters, networks as well as the public. Sporting codes have done good work in supporting literacy around high prevalence mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, but more work is needed to be  more inclusive of the full range of mental health experiences. 

Second, lived experience story telling should be central to an organisation’s work to improve their community’s understanding and inclusion of people living with a complex mental health issue. At Flourish Australia, we centre lived experience in our peer support workforce as a powerful part of the mental health recovery journey. 

Lastly, we should all celebrate the work of volunteers, sporting and community leaders who live with a complex mental health issue. This will help encourage other people with similar lived experience to join in and feel included. 

Flourish Australia recognises mental health occurs on a continuum, and while recovery is different for everyone, being able to participate in your community of choice is a key component of recovery. Check out Estella’s inspiring story about kayaking on the Murray River to see how sport and activity was a central part of her own recovery journey. 

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