National Charity Helping Australians Living with Mental Illness Lead Better Lives [Interview][Transcript]

Jack_Heath_SANE_AustraliaGuest: Jack Heath
Presenter: Wayne Bucklar
Guest Bio: Jack Heath, the chief executive of SANE Australia, has been working to build better lives and give voice to the challenges and achievements of Australians affected by mental illness for close to two decades. In 1997, following the suicide of his 20-year-old cousin, Jack founded the Inspire Foundation, with the idea of using the internet to prevent youth suicide. Inspired by people with mental illness, and driven by his personal experience and previous work in the youth mental health sector, Jack seized the opportunity to become the CEO of SANE Australia in 2012. Jacks says he derives much of his inspiration from people with mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar, who are holding down a job.

Segment overview: In today’s Health Supplier Segment, we welcome SANE CEO Jack Heath as he shares inspiring insights about their organization with us. They work to help all Australians living with a mental illness lead a better life through support, training and education. About two years ago SANE Australia conducted a workplace survey about depression which found that one in four people in the workforce reported that they had experienced depression. It also found that Australians are far less likely to admit to their employer that they have depression. When compared to a similar survey done across Europe, 25 per cent of people who had depression said that they wouldn’t tell their employer while in Australia that figure was almost doubled at 41 per cent. Jack explains this difference to be attributed to the stigma that Australia has a team-based culture and we don’t want to let down our fellow workers.


Health Professional Radio

Wayne Bucklar: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio. My name is Wayne Bucklar and my guest today is Jack Heath. Jack is the CEO of SANE. Now I have to say that’s the title I always thought I should have, but Jack welcome to the program.

Jack Heath: Thanks very much Wayne.

W: Now Jack SANE is not an organization name that I’ve heard of. Tell us what it’s all about.

J: Well SANE Australia was created almost 30 years ago in Sydney. And it was a wet windy night at Teachers Federation Hall, and there were a group of parents and other people affected by schizophrenia who’d gathered, and it was organized Anne Deveson and Margaret Leggatt and at that meeting a young man called Simon Champ stood up and said “My name is Simon Champs and I have schizophrenia” and that really kicked off SANE Australia and so for almost 30 years our work has been about “how do we help people affected by medical illness lead a better life and that’s both for the individual themselves, but also for their family, friends and carers and anyone else that’s involved in their life.

W: I see. Thirty years is a long history, has the organization changed much or is it still pursuing the same objectives?

J: Yes. So Wayne when we started, our focus was exclusively on schizophrenia, and then about 10 years by now we started to take an approach at looking mental illness right across the board. So that was when we actually adopted the name SANE Australia. And always aspiring to be a national organization, we’ve been based out of Melbourne for the duration, we’ve also got a small office in Sydney, we have one of our staff that’s up in Brisbane. But always seeking to try and help people right across the country. And I guess our work has been focusing on three things in particular. The first is “How do we provide better support to people affected by mental illness.” And we do that through our 1-800 helpline, we also have an online chat service. And we’ve got some SANE forums that we launched over a year ago that are being used right across Australia. The second area is about the “training piece” and this is where we’re doing planning around suicide prevention, we’ve been doing work about physical health issues for peer to peer training. Also working in the media training that will help organizations about how to deal with media. And finally in the workplace, we’ve got a mindful employer program that’s helping managers how to deal with the managing mental health issues in the workplace. And finally the third is around the “education piece” where we’re doing providing information resources. We’ve got a very extensive website, also working in the area to reduce “stigma” because that’s a huge impediment both for people who’ve got mental illness, but also if we don’t get help early on it’s gonna create problems down the track. And finally under that education role, we have an advocacy position which is about how do we actually try and report reform, the mental health reform that’s kind of deliver better outcomes for individuals affected by mental illness and also their families.

W: Now Jack, we hear in the media fair bit about the mental illness these days. It kind of never used to make the media much, is it an increasing problem?

J: Well this suggests that we are having increasing issues around mental health. I think we have been particularly good certainly from an understanding basis in reducing stigma, it’s been around depression and anxiety. And I think … beyond those phenomenal job around that, we in fact those don’t actually measure very comprehensively the state of mental illness out within the community, because one of the, really important that we need to track that all the time. So for example, yes it’s good if we’ve got a better understanding around depression and what are the signs of depression and when we need to go and get help. But at the end of the day what you really need is basically to … actually … decline … the depression. And I think that’s the big challenge for us across all the different mental illness categories. I think the thing for us we’re saying and we always had a very big emphasis in terms to wanting to reduce stigma right from the very beginning is that for those people who are down with sort of the rear end of the spectrum and obviously there will be people with severe anxiety and depression included in that. But for other people who might be dealing with a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia or might have bipolar disorder, or an eating disorder, we really haven’t shifted the dial much in terms of increasing people’s understanding and acceptance around those particular issue. So we still believe there’s a huge role, and need a much bigger investment in terms of getting that stigma reduced because like health is always very expensive health in both humans and financial terms.

W: It is indeed. And that stigma reduction is a huge task, I guess. In my mind it’s a bit like fighting a jelly fish, it’s difficult to see where it is and it’s difficult to get hold of but its effects are there nevertheless.

J: Yeah, I think you’re right in terms that it’s difficult to address. And this is why we’re for a number of years now we’ve been advocating what we need to do to have a target approach. So for example we know from a research down in Australia and also in the UK that one of the biggest areas in terms of shifting stigma is within the mental health professional themselves. Now if you’re working and you’re spending … working hours, dealing with people who are unwell, and you don’t get to experience them when they are well, then it’s very easy to sort of form a particular view, that instead of this mental illness is appearing it’s kind of almost intractable and certainly from the people that we’ve had contact with at SANE, we’ve got about 80 speakers who go out instead of talk about their experiences right around Australia, is often we find that the attitudes that have been expressed to people to be one of the most limiting factors. And I think one person in particular thought that when she was looking to diagnosis of schizophrenia and she went in to the government organization to sign up for her disability support pension, the person behind says “Look, it’s the end of the road for you, isn’t it?” So I think we need to be a lot more in terms of reducing the stigma and also to mental health professional, and this implies to people working in the organization themselves. There’s always the case it’s the I know it’s…and I think when it comes to mental illness issues, many of us at the mental health profession is got still better way to go in terms of reducing that stigma.

W: That’s a very interesting perspective. You’re listening to Health Professional Radio, my guest today is Jack Heath CEO of SANE. And SANE Australia is a national charity helping all Australians affected by mental illness. Jack changing that view within members in the profession themselves, is that something that’s recognized as being needed inside the profession? Or is it just an observation from outside?

J: Well now it’s increasingly it’s been recognize within the profession, in fact there were some great work that’s being done by the Royal College of Psychiatrist over the past 12 months. And this is sort of looking a little bit more in the context of the importance of … considerations when you’re looking at someone with a mental health condition. And I think what’s happening is that we’re starting to get professions who are , and again this are people who are working incredibly hard in many circumstances, they’ve got very limited resources to be able to deal with people, also particularly when we move into some of the emergency setting, we’ve got very, very high demand. So I think it’s a very stressful place to be working, but certainly different aspects of mental health professionals are now starting to look a little bit more in terms of their own practices, and also to relay that in terms of looking after their own well-being. Because one of the risk factors working in the mental health sector is that is often we got so caught up and passionate and not wanting to help people to their own well, get back into a much better place, but we sometimes forget to look after ourselves as well.

W: Yes, I believe that would be an issue. Most of our audience, 95% of our audience are clinicians of one kind or another – doctors, and nurses, allied health professionals. Many of them work in either acute care or in aged care, I’ve never surveyed how many workers we have in the mental health sector, so I can’t give you any idea of that. What would your take away message be for the clinicians who are listening to us today?

J: Well I think for those clinicians who are out there, I would really encourage them to have a look at the SANE forums. Now these are online forums where we’re building a community of individuals who either have a mental illness themselves or people who are caring for them. And the reason why I think this is important to the clinicians is it these forums are providing a safe supportive and moderated environment that enables people to find support from some of the peers who are dealing with difficult issues. So at SANE forums if you’re a clinician or a professional looking after someone, we recommend that you take a look at them and see whether or not the SANE forums is a place that you’d recommend to people that you’re working with, to actually pay visit to and between when they are coming back or for professional consultations. Because what we’ve found there for example to give you one story, there was a person involved in discussion with few other people and one of them said “Look, I really think you probably need to go and see the psychiatrist to have discussion about your situation,.” And the person responded “Well yeah I’m not sure about that. What will I do and what would happen?” And then other people jumped in and then said “Look, this how it’s supposed likely go. Obviously you need to get a referral. So these are sorts of questions that you might get can asked and the question you might want to ask in return.” And what was wonderful, was that after the person visited the psychiatrist for the first time came back said, “You know that was a lot easier than I was expecting.” So for us these forums are about trying to encourage people to seek help early on but also to provide a supportive network in between those professional visits. And as I say that the forums are fully moderated 24/7, and so far we’ve got extensive protocols in terms if someone obviously at risk or might be at risk of hurting themselves, but a very very safe and supportive community that could well help ease the burden I think for clinicians in between those professional consultations.

W: That’s some excellent advice Jack and you’ve mentioned previously a website and the 1800 number, but we haven’t actually given them. Now your website I understand is What’s the 1-800 number?

J: So the 1-800 number is 1-800-18SANE or 1-800-187263.

W: And I presume for anyone looking for further information, the best place to go is the website?

J: Yeah, you go to And also to the SANE forums that you can get through from The important thing about those forums is … up with over 28 organizations, mental health organizations around Australia in every state and territory. And so we’re actually are reaching to the rural regional community … very strong and that’s why they can be an important resource between other people living in those rural regional communities who are only accessing mental health services that are around a third if the rate of those people in the big cities.

W: Yes, the whole issue of mental health in regional Australia is I guess a different topic for another day, but it is certainly concerning.

J: Yeah and I think this is where we have to think creatively, I mean more and more people are coming online even if they’re sort of even now sort of remote regions. And so the thing for us is if we can provide safe supportive environment through technology where people can connect that with other people who might be not close to them geographically, but close to them certainly in terms of the issues that they’re dealing with, say for example someone with bipolar, if you can connect with someone else also in sort of small country town, you can start to build a relationship and it’s not gonna get rid of the problem, but knowing that here is someone else there to share the issue with certainly reduces the … significantly.

W: Indeed, it does. Jack thank you for your time, it’s been a pleasure being able to chat with you today.

J: Thanks very much Wayne. I’ve enjoyed the chat.

W: If you’ve just joined us then you just missed my chat with Jack Heath ,the CEO of SANE. The SANE Australia is a national charity helping all Australians affected by mental illness. And the good news is we’ve got a transcript of our interview, so you can pop off to our website and read the transcript. You can also head to YouTube and SoundCloud and listen to an archive of the interview on those sources. Now our website is and the SANE Australia website once again was My name is Wayne Bucklar, you’re listening to Health Professional Radio.

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