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Combat stigma of mental illness with campaign: expert

Calls for a long-term campaign to fight the stigma attached to mental illness.

Australia needs to campaign against mental illness stigma in the same way it campaigns against obesity, smoking and alcohol addiction, a mental health expert said.

At a Brisbane summit on mental health stigma the University of Melbourne's Professor Anthony Jorm said government bodies needed to make a long-term commitment to reduce stigma for mental illness.

"It's not just a matter of increasing services, we've got to have greater acceptance of those services, greater acceptance of people in general," he told reporters in Brisbane.

"We need the willingness to support people in employment, support them in their education if they have mental illnesses, and for people to say, `I have the support of the community around me'.

A sustained campaign was needed, he said.

"For example with physical health problems we've had campaigns for years about exercise, smoking, alcohol misuse and so on.

"I think we need a commitment to stigma (reduction) that will go over some decades and see this as an important national priority."

But Professor Patrick Corrigan from the Illinois Institute of Technology argues it's more important for people to meet an "average" person with a mental illness.

"Education has the idea that if the public knows that mental illness is a brain disorder, a genetic disorder, they'll stop stigmatising it, and most of the research shows that's not true," he told AAP.

"Contact, meeting people with mental illness tends to have the biggest impact."

Meeting an average person with a mental illness was more important than hearing about a celebrity with the condition, he said.

"A lot of famous people have come out, which is OK...but somebody you work with, or somebody you live next to, or go to church with, talking about their depression has a huge effect."


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