Don’t sweep mental health issues under the carpet
Mental health is a far greater problem than we realise. According to the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, 368,100 Australians had contemplated suicide in the 12 months prior to the survey interview.
Of those, almost three‐quarters had had a 12‐month mental disorder. Yet, according to ABS statistics, there were 1,881 suicide deaths reported in 2007 of which 72 per cent were males.
Today six Australians will tragically take their own life and chillingly, more than 200 will make a suicide attempt. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 44, women under 34 and currently ranks 15th in the overall causes of death in Australia.
In younger Australians, the statistics are even more alarming. Suicide accounts for one in four deaths among young people and is the leading cause of death for 15‐24 year olds each year.
But speak to any mental health professional and they will tell you that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The real figure is much higher. They will also tell you that until we have a proper handle on the actual number of suicides in Australia, we can not begin to properly tackle the problem.
These figures don’t include the young man who wraps himself around a tree at midnight on a country road or the little old lady found dead alone in her home, both of which would more likely be reported as accidental deaths.
Suicide statistics are dependent on investigations and findings by State authorities such as coroners. When dealing with human emotions and indeterminate situations, it is easier to err on the side of a finding of accidental death. All Governments need to work together to get a far better picture of the size and scale of the real problem.
One can also cite similarly confronting statistics with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bi‐polar, personality and eating disorders. In summary, one in five Australians will suffer from some form of mental illness each year and almost 45 per cent of Australians will face some form of mental health problem in their lifetime.
Today is the United Nations World Health Organisation World Mental Health Day. The theme for this year is Depression: A Global Crisis. In recent weeks we have marked World Suicide PreventionDay, RUOK? Day, Dementia Awareness Week, and World Alzheimer’s Day. The month of October is Mental Health Month in NSW and encompasses numerous Mental Health weeks for other States and Territories.
On Friday, we have National Hat Day, followed by Sock it to Suicide week. All great initiatives. All designed to raise awareness and hope. All striving to lessen the stigma. All seeking to engage with us about being aware, being understanding and how to seek help.
Stigma remains the big issue. Whilst we can now have conversations about mental health, this has only been a relatively recent development. It is not something people want to openly talk about. They don’t understand mental illness and therefore, understandably, they shy away from talking about it, let alone finding out more.
With the right resources and support, people suffering with mental illness, just like people who suffer physical illness, can overcome their illness and return to a fully functioning daily life. This brings us to last year’s federal budget.
In the year of ‘decision and delivery’, where mental health was promised to be a second term priority for the Labor Government we saw a $2.2 billion headline. This headline with much fanfare was designed to look impressive and even the mental health sector applauded it.
Unfortunately, however as with everything this Labor Government announces the devil is in the detail. It was quickly discovered that only $583 million of this was new money. The reality is there was only $47 million in the first year and the sector is now rightfully critical of this budget.
One should also go back to the 2010 election promise of $277 million to tackle suicide of which only $9.5 million was allocated in 2010‐2011. Of this $7,373,727 was actually spent!
Contrast this with the Coalition’s 2010 election policy, which was widely endorsed by mental health experts such as the 2010 Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry and Professor John Mendoza who described the Coalition policy as “the most significant announcement by any political party in relation to a targeted, evidence‐based investment in mental health”.
Therefore, until this Labor Government gets serious about tackling mental illness in our communities, we cannot begin to meet the challenges that this brings.
Events in our lives are unpredictable and mental illness can strike anyone at any time. So next time someone stops you and seeks to engage on any one of these important days, listen to them. Be prepared to raise your awareness. Stop and think whether your family member, friend or colleague is OK.
Remember, one day it could be you; it could be any of us.
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