Samantha Woods
Tutor - Emily Mann

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Released in 2008 by American punk rock band zebrahead, the song ‘Mental Health’ was the lead single off their album Phoenix. The band was formed in 1996 in California by Greg Bergdorf, and after a few ‘creative differences’ with original members, the band today now consists of himself, Ali Tabatabaee (rap vocalist), Matty Lewis (vocalist/guitarist), Ben Osmundson (bassist) and Ed Udhus (drummer). The group has produced a total of nine albums throughout the years, with multiple songs reaching the top ten in the Japanese music charts. zebrahead have toured worldwide with a current tour, Get Nice or Die Trying, that started October 2011 in Southampton, UK and is due to finish in Spain mid-December (zebrahead 2011).


The public health issue of mental health in today’s society is on the forefront of many of the current political campaigns, but how well is Australia actually dealing with the issue in 2011. It is widely known that the number of people suffering from mental illnesses such as depression has greatly increased over the past ten years, but why is this? Is the society of today looking for an excuse for behaviours that would otherwise be classed as unacceptable? Or is due to the increased recognition and availability of treatment for mental illness that is leading to the increased prevalence in society?


From the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (NSMHW) it was stated that 7,286,600 of Australians aged 16-85 had suffered from a mental illness at some stage in their lifetime (NSMHW 2007), which equates for 34.4% of the total population as of December 31 2007 (ABS 2007). In comparison the data from the NSMHW in 1997, only 18.5% of the total population (3, 330,000) suffered from a mental illness (ABS 1997). In this ten year time period alone the prevalence of mental illness has increased by 218.82%, these statistics alone highlight the importance of the issue of mental illness in today’s society. Mental health is a complex issue that is affected greatly by the stigma and stereotypical views placed upon anyone who is suffering from a mental illness. Copious amounts of time have been placed into the research for evaluating the effects of stigma and labelling on the recovery and quality of life for those suffering from mental illness.

A document from the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry examined the effects on stigma and associated beliefs for those suffering from a mental illness from their portrayal in the media. This research established that the majority of the participants could recall media coverage on a story related to violence and crime from a citizen suffering from mental illness. Very few could recall any stories about the successful recovery from a mental illness or any other positive portrayals. Positively from the study, those that participated evaluated those with a mental illness to be sick rather than weak and agreed that even with negative media coverage it would not reduce the likelihood of them seeking help if they suffered from a mental illness (Army, 2009). To try to combat some of the stigma associated with mental illness from the media MindFrame media, a major media company, has introduced education programs for journalists on how to report on these issues in an appropriate and respectful manner. SANE Australia have introduced StigmaWatch which monitors the portrayal of mental illness through the media and similar to MindFrame provides education to journalists.

Other research carried out by the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry found that after a highly covered story on an attack on a politician by two mentally ill persons participants believed that those suffering from a mental illness were more violent and dangerous, this belief has also been confirmed in other worldwide studies. An article from the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing (2008), which was researching attitudes towards mental illness, found that many people had stereotyped those with a mental illness as being violent and therefore undesirable to have in their neighbourhood. This is conflicting with research carried out that states those suffering from a mental illness are more likely to suffer from physical abuse or attack than those not suffering (Putman 2008). It seems that ignorance towards the understanding of mental illness and what it actually entails is causing a great deal of negative attention towards sufferers who need support and understanding more than anything.

In Putman’s research it was highlighted from past research areas that the group of people most intolerant towards those with mental illness are employers from both the nursing and social work fields. It is an alarming point to be made, as these two professions should be the most understanding of sufferers and social workers especially should be the ones they could feel trusted to turn to in times of need. Another valuable point made in the research to reinforce this point, was the fact that employees in both these fields felt harassed and intimidated by fellow employees if they themselves had mental health issues. In the workforce sufferers of mental illness often feel they must perform at a far higher level than all the other employees to ‘make up’ for their mental illness.

Provencher and Keyes (2011) carried out research on the links between mental illness and positive mental health, that is “that experiencing less mental illness does not necessarily equate with experiencing better positive mental health and also highlights the possibility of achieving a higher level of positive mental health despite the presence of enduring psychiatric symptoms and deficits”. This study breaks down positive mental health into emotional wellbeing (hedonic well-being) and positive functioning (eudaimonic well-being) which works into the World Health Organization definition of mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. This led to their development of the below Figure 1.1 – Pathways to complete mental health in recovery.


Figure 1.1 shows the importance and interrelation of high levels of positive mental health in a person having a complete recovery from a mental illness; it not only relies on the restoration from mental illness but also the optimization of positive mental health. In order for this process to be effective sufferers need treatment from professionals but also support and understanding from all those around them, removing the stigma so that they are able to have positive mental health mind frame.
Complementing the work done by Provencher and Keyes is the research into the impact of illness identity on recovery from severe mental illness carried out by Yanos, Roe and Lysaker published in the American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation. They looked into the labelling of mental illness and how the stigma associated with these labels can affect the outcome for the patient. Their model below (Figure 1.2) shows how the stigma and its affects directly correlate into the sufferers’ self-esteem, coping mechanisms, social interactions and most significantly their suicide risk.
Figure 1.2 – Impact of illness identity on recovery related outcomes


An in depth understanding of the different social and cultural influences are a critical aspect of addressing the issue of stigma associated with mental illness. Two key theories lead to understanding of how the stigma associated with mental illness affects sufferers. The social cognitive theory highlights how ones behaviour is affected on different levels by personal factors, behavioural factors and environmental factors, both physical and social (Bandura 1986). Dependent on each situation an individual is placed in will determine the influence of each of the three areas in how they react and behave. With regards to mental illness the social environment has the greatest influence on behaviours and thought processes. If there is a stigma directly associated to a label placed on someone suffering from mental illness they will be led to interact in the way that is expected of them through the stereotypical views of those around them. As this behaviour may lead to negative outcomes, they may then take to isolation to avoid backlash and ill treatment from those around them. By avoiding social interaction further labels will placed upon them and they will become viewed as an ‘outsider’. It is not only stigma from direct social interactions that affects those with mental illness; the views from the media also play a large role in the development of stigma.
The cultivation theory suggests that the viewing of mass media leads to influenced ideas of the outside world (Gerbner 1960). The broadcasting of media is a singular, highly biased view developed to create a particular interpretation of events. The bias is created by the means of payment for a particular angle or the want to create a story that has the ‘shock’ factor. Most portrayals from the media are extremely far-fetched with minimal truth behind them. Because of this, society has a preconceived idea about those suffering from mental illness and understands very few of the actual facts about it. If the media portrays mental illness sufferers as being violent then society will believe that this is true, regardless of whether it is actual fact or pure fiction.
With regards to progress, a great leap has been made since the times of the 1960’s when any person affected by even a slight mental illness was locked away from all of society and labelled an ‘other’ or ‘different’. Today there is a far greater understanding of mental illness and successful treatments, although labelling is still a major issue. The labels today are by far more scientific, but they are still labels. As soon as someone becomes diagnosed with a mental illness they suddenly ‘become’ that illness and are treated differently because of it. The Australian Government has lately released their ‘Change Our Minds’ campaign which is targeting the stigma associated with mental illness. The campaign is being carried out over a four year period with an investment of $8.5 million. This is the first step in trying to alleviate the social effects of isolation and delineation for those suffering from mental illness.
Awareness and understanding are the two biggest influences on the quality of life for those suffering from mental illness. It is all very well to have amazing medical breakthroughs in treatments for mental illness, but what use is this if the sufferer is still getting treated as an ‘other’ simply because they have been labelled with the ‘mental illness’ tag.

The chosen artefact of the zebrahead song ‘Mental Health” is a perfect portrayal of the stigma associated with mental illness. In the song the sufferer of mental illness is referred to as ‘psycho’ and at one point ‘as nuts as a blue cashew’. These are the typical views of mental illness in society where labelling is at its worst. To refer to someone as a ‘psycho’ due to mental illness is the lowest insult anyone could make. Also the referrals towards the padded rooms, strait jackets and electric shock therapy are all indications of the mindset of many people who truly still believe that those suffering from mental illness should be locked away from the rest of society. This song is reintroducing this stereotypical views to all listeners and is generally ‘taking the mickey’ of mental illness. Personally I find this song derogatory towards mental illness sufferers and the fact that it has reached top charts in multiple countries is sickening. From all of the research from this assignment I have changed my views on the issue of mental illness. I never believed myself to be one that stereotyped people, but have alerted myself to the fact that in certain situations I have created a view of a person that was based on stereotypical views. This is not something I am proud of and in future will work proactively to avoid making any unjust judgements. Always remember ‘Never judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes’.

Reference List:
zebrahead. (2011). Welcome to the zebrahead Kingdom. Retrieved from:
Lyrics Mode. (2011). zebrahead – Mental Health Lyrics. Retrieved from:
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2010) Australia’s Health. Retrieved from:
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2007). Population. Retrieved from:
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (1998). Population Projections 1997-2051. Retrieved from:
Chandler, D. (1995) Cultivation Theory. Retrieved from:
Putman, S. (2008). Mental Illness: diagnostic title or derogatory term? Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 15, 684-693.
Provencher, H. Keyes, C. (2011). Complete mental health recovery: bridging mental illness with positive mental health. Journal of Public Mental Health 10(1), 57-89.
Yanos, P. Roe, D. Lysaker, P. (2010). The Impact of Illness Identity on Recovery from Severe Mental Illness. American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation 13, 73-93.
Morgan, A. Jorm, A. (2008).Recall of news stories about mental illness by Australian Youth: associations with help-seeking attitudes and stigma. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 43, 866-872.
Keyes, C. Dhingra, S. Simoes, J. (2010). Change in Level of Positive Mental Health as a Predictor of Future Risk of Mental Illness. American Journal of Public Health, 100(12), 2366-2371.

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