The media and public have been urged to portray mental illness with sensitivity and respect, not to exacerbate stigma and perpetuate stereotypes.

The Mental Health Department (MHD) of the Ministry of Health (MOH) gave this advice after a recent disturbing behaviour of a person with mental disorder in Port Vila went viral on social media. The person hijacked a vehicle and involved in a crash, chased and threatened people in a public place.

Some people stressed he displayed aggressive attitude towards residents. Others concerned for the safety of their children want action taken.

The Mental Health Department said it is aware of the recent discussions on social media concerning the person reportedly causing disturbances. While it is not in a position to comment on the specifics of this case because of the ethics it abide by, the department explained that mental illness are real, common, and often treatable.

“Yet, despite their prevalence, there is a significant stigma attached to mental health conditions. This stigma presents in various ways, including social ostracization, discrimination, and a general lack of understanding about the nature of these illnesses. Such attitudes can lead to delays in individuals seeking help or receiving adequate care and support,” said the department.

“Stigma arises from a lack of knowledge and a plethora of misconceptions about mental health. It is often fueled by stereotypes and sensationalized media portrayals. We must remember that individuals with mental health issues are more often victims rather than perpetrators of violence.

“As a community we have a collective responsibility to foster an environment where mental health is openly discussed, and support is available. This includes promoting mental health education, encouraging compassionate understanding, and advocating for the rights and treatment of those living with mental illness.”

The department urged citizens to build a community that supports mental wellbeing and inclusivity, rather than one that perpetuates fear and misunderstanding.

The department also plead the government through the partner ministries to invest and resource mental health services beyond infrastructure.

Anyone struggling with mental health issues or knows someone who is, are advised to seek professional assistance.

According to the Mental Health Department, mental health issues can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or social status. It encompasses a wide range of conditions-disorders that affect mood, thinking, and behaviour. These conditions include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, addictive behaviours, and many others.