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Tackling stigma as a barrier to health and justice outcomes

Australia’s first ever Draft National Stigma and Discrimination Reduction Strategy is now out for consultation.

It identifies the role stigma plays in shaping people’s mental health and how the presence of stigmatising behaviours and assumptions can alienate people from the services, systems and supports that exist to help them. It sets out actions across a range of areas, including services and systems that people come into contact with every day, where reducing stigma can open up pathways to improved experience and impact.

As a member of the Stigma Strategy Steering Group, I have been working alongside a range of experts to support the development of this Strategy by the National Mental Health Commission. For me, one of the most important parts of the Strategy is how it has been informed (designed and developed) by experts across a breadth of relevant experience. From the expertise of people with lived experience of stigma and discrimination to community advocates, practitioners and managers in services, policy-makers designing and funding systems and educators skilled in shaping behaviours to tackle stigma effectively. There have many other areas of expertise drawn on in the development of this Strategy; and many participants have provided insight from multiple areas of expertise within their own experience.

Reducing stigma and the role it plays in shaping discrimination is an important health justice issue. We see legal needs arising in relation to experiences of stigma and discrimination across the landscape of health justice partnerships in Australia. We also recognise the discrimination experienced by many in their interactions with health and justice systems, for instance through institutional racism and or the exclusion of people with disabilities. This landscape encompasses health, legal assistance and other services working collaboratively in response to multiple, intersecting problems in people’s lives. There are 109 of these service collaborations across the country. Discrimination is an example of a health justice problem that is both complex in how it is experienced by people and often results in complex service and other system responses. We see this particularly in relation to the needs of people experiencing mental health conditions and/or addiction, with discrimination identified among the wide range of legal issues being supported through health justice partnership. Now, with this first ever national strategy, we can begin to build collaborative, systemic responses to reducing the stigma and discrimination that undermine health and justice outcomes across Australia.