Former WA premier Geoff Gallop says people with mental illness are still stigmatised as weak, pathetic and even dangerous.
Eight years after he quit politics to deal with his spiralling depression, Dr Gallop, 62, says that while inroads have been made to raise awareness, at times mental health is trivialised and happiness portrayed as a commodity that can be bought at the corner shop.
The University of Sydney academic will speak at a landmark mental health forum in Perth next month where psychiatric experts from around the world will share the podium for the first time with patients and their families.
Meeting for Minds was conceived by Maria Halphen, of the Philippe and Maria Halphen Foundation in Paris, after she was inspired by the harrowing experiences of her Perth friend Susie Hincks, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 28.
Keith Wilson, a former Labor MP and WA health minister, has helped organise the event.
Dr Gallop said stigma around mental illness remained a major issue. It forced some people to bottle up their feelings or turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.
There was still a widely held view that depressed people were weak and just needed to tough out a bad period or take some time off to recharge their batteries, when they actually needed treatment.
"It's not just the external force of stigma, it's also internalised, so people take on board these views themselves because we don't like to imagine we're vulnerable, so it leads to this idea that mental illness is something you can push through by pure will alone," Dr Gallop said.
"More openness all round has helped those frightened by what exposure may mean for their life and career, however it's also fostered the view that happiness is like a consumer item that can be purchased at the corner store."
He said the conference would bring together experts and people who had experienced mental illness for a conversation rather than the traditional lecture format.