MICHAEL Burge, OAM, a long-time mental health advocate and mental health first aid instructor.
After more than 22 years in the mental health game, helping veterans and members of the public alike, Michael has been accepted onto the board of the World Federation for Mental Health 2017-19.
The former Army Warrant Officer – himself a sufferer of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression – described it as an “Oh-my-God” moment. As the congratulatory messages flowed in from family, friends and the mental health sector over the next few days, Michael said he felt “humbled”.
He’s now looking forward to spending his next two years on the board fighting against the widespread discrimination and stigma people face when it comes to mental health issues in the workplace.
“I believe this is a systemic failure not just in Australia but in the whole world, and the way people with mental health issues are treated in workplaces once they speak out is unacceptable,” he said.
“I’d like a dollar for every time someone’s come up to me… and whispered in my ear and said ‘I’ve got bipolar, I’ve got borderline personality disorder, I’ve got this, I’ve got that, but don’t tell anyone’… because they get treated differently, and they know that.”
For Michael, it’s an issue that hits close to home. Having spent 20 years in the Australian Defence Force, he knows exactly what it’s like to be discriminated against for having a mental illness.
“As soon as you identified as having a mental health problem, you were treated differently. It was shocking,” he said.
“I wish we could live in a world where everyone could admit what was wrong with them and not feel like they’re going to be treated differently or discriminated against, and unfortunately, we don’t.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about getting on the board, is to change those attitudes.”
But before he begins the next chapter of his career as a board member of the WFMH, Mr Burge will need to raise the money he needs to attend the organisation’s Mental Health Lived Experience panel at the World Congress of Mental Health November 2017 in New Delhi, India.
All his advocacy work for mental health is voluntary and done in his own time. “Even if I’ve got to swim there, I’m going to get there. This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Michael said.
Parent to Parent would like to congratulate Michael Burge on his new position! We hope he makes it to India and can’t wait to see what he achieves in his new role!
If you would like to help support Michael to get to India for the World Congress of Mental Health this month his page is below: