Mental Health, Meditation, Self care, Anxiety, Mindfulness, COVID19 3 minute read

Getting ahead of the curve in our mental health crisis

For Victorians like me experiencing yet another mass lockdown, the prospect of the COVID19 pandemic being behind us feels like a remote and distant proposition. 

But let’s for a moment imagine that we are gazing back on this period of profound disruption and uncertainty. How will we reflect on this moment in history?

Perhaps the most succinct and accurate summary of the past year is that we, as a community, have accepted the need to change every aspect of our lives in order to keep people out of hospital. 

That’s it. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Of course, in reality it has been far from straight-forward. But this approach -- a preventative health approach -- is at the very heart of our response to COVID19. All the sacrifices we have made have been done to prevent illness, limit hospitalisation and, ultimately, minimise mortality.

Back in those terribly uncertain early days, the health advice presented to political leaders and granted wall-to-wall media coverage was quickly adopted. Victorians quickly understood that, to stop this easily transmitted, deadly virus from moving through our community unchecked, we had to keep our distance, wash our hands, wear masks, work and learn from home and, most agonisingly, stay away from the most important and loved people in our lives. 

This approach, a textbook preventative health response if ever there was one, has been profoundly successful. Yes, there has been tragedy -- we need only recall the devastation experienced in aged care last year to know what happens if we slip up -- but without question, preventative measures to lock down and maintain social distancing have saved lives. As many as 16,000 nationally, according to the University of Sydney.

And of course, we don’t have to look very far to see the consequences of failing to “get ahead” of the virus. Australia’s mortality rate, at 36 deaths per million people, is among the best in the world and has far outperformed nations whose approach has been to delay, deny or let it rip. The UK, Brazil and Sweden are experiencing rates of death between 39 and 60 times worse than ours.

So, if it is possible to imagine a post-pandemic future where we are able to define this historic moment as one where we successfully applied preventative health measures, how do we assess our current approach to the mental health crisis?

As is the case right now with infectious diseases, awareness of and funding for mental health has never been higher. This budget season has seen the federal and Victorian governments each claim “historic” commitments, while not-for-profit services like Smiling Mind have experienced record levels of demand since the pandemic struck.

This, however, is where our approach to the health crises differ. In mental health very little of the billions committed by governments supports the prevention of mental illness. As the Brain and Mind Centre’s Dr Sebastian Rosenberg points out, just 11% of the total funding on mental health in the federal budget was committed to prevention and early intervention, with the vast bulk of funding directed to addressing mental ill-health after problems are already being experienced. 

This approach seems reasonably set in stone, too, considering that the National Preventive Health Strategy’s current aim is to dedicate only 5% of the national health spend to prevention programs by 2030. 

Would we be better off adopting the same approach as we have throughout the pandemic, of directing money into areas that keep people out of emergency departments and GP clinics? 

Again, a comparison with the current COVID situation helps. Just as we now know that wearing masks, washing hands and keeping our distance stops people becoming infected with COVID19, there is much to be gained by funding programs that develop good mental health behaviours and skills in people so they are able to cope during the difficult moments we all experience in the course of our lives.  

Good physical and mental health is good economics, too. As we learnt last year, the first step towards opening up the economy is getting a handle on the virus. So too is this the case with mental health, with our current crisis-focussed approach costing the Australian economy $220 billion every year according to the Productivity Commission while mental health prevention and promotion approaches have demonstrated success at reducing stigma and improving cost-effectiveness.

Victorians have benefited enormously from the incredible work done in preventative health in recent decades. Compared to our parents' generation, we are better protected from deadly cancers, enjoy better physical health and travel more safely on the road. Now, in the wake of a global pandemic where the government’s focus on health prevention has saved thousands of lives, it is time to ask ourselves: why don’t we start taking the same approach to our mental health?

Dr Addie Wootten

Written by Dr Addie Wootten

Latest

A critical moment to invest in the mental health and wellbeing of our future generations

 Australia’s mental health crisis is now in plain sight. The impacts of the pandemic compounded by multiple climate disa...

Children, Family, Teachers, Students, Schools, Mental Health 4 minute read

Using stress to nurture resilience skills

While it isn’t possible to avoid all stressful situations, it is possible to support children to cope more positively wi...

Children, Parents, Mental Health, Self care, Informal mindfulness 3 minute read

Federal Government Announces Further $3.3m In Funding For Smiling Mind’s Schools Program

Federal Government Announces Further $3.3m In Funding For Smiling Mind’s Schools Program Smiling Mind today welcomed the...

Mental Health, Media release 2 minute read

Smiling Mind calls for investment in preventative Mental Health programs for children and families

Smiling Mind today welcomed the Federal Government’s budget and its recognition of the challenges that mental illness po...

Mental Health, Media release 3 minute read
Quote of the week
“You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.”
Pema Chödrön

At home

A critical moment to invest in the mental health and wellbeing of our future generations

 Australia’s mental health crisis is now in plain sight. The impacts of the pandemic compounded by multiple climate disa...

Children, Family, Teachers, Students, Schools, Mental Health 4 minute read

Using stress to nurture resilience skills

While it isn’t possible to avoid all stressful situations, it is possible to support children to cope more positively wi...

Children, Parents, Mental Health, Self care, Informal mindfulness 3 minute read

Navigating news coverage with your family in 2022

With images of long testing queues, exhausted healthcare workers, packed hospitals and rapidly increasing infection char...

Children, Parents, Mental Health, Self care, Informal mindfulness, COVID19 3 minute read

At Work

Overcoming the Mental Burden of Customer Service Work

In customer service, the number one rule that gets drilled into you from day one  is, ‘the customer is always right.’ Po...

Workplace, Tips & Tricks, Informal mindfulness 4 minute read

4 Steps To Achieving Your Work Goals in 2022

Many of us have returned from a break over the holiday period feeling refreshed and ready to face whatever the year thro...

Workplace 3 minute read

How to Master Your Workday in 2022

Learn how to maximise your time off, to master your workday.  After two years of working from home, the office, or both,...

Workplace, Tips & Tricks, Self care 3 minute read

At school

A critical moment to invest in the mental health and wellbeing of our future generations

 Australia’s mental health crisis is now in plain sight. The impacts of the pandemic compounded by multiple climate disa...

Children, Family, Teachers, Students, Schools, Mental Health 4 minute read

What is Social and Emotional Learning?

This article sets out the importance of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in the Australian Curriculum and an overview...

Teachers, Schools 2 minute read

Spotlight On: St Joseph's Primary School

School Principal and Smiling Mind Spaces recipient, Michelle Moore tells us how she is preparing for the school year ahe...

Teachers, Schools, Self care 3 minute read

News

Federal Government Announces Further $3.3m In Funding For Smiling Mind’s Schools Program

Federal Government Announces Further $3.3m In Funding For Smiling Mind’s Schools Program Smiling Mind today welcomed the...

Mental Health, Media release 2 minute read

Smiling Mind calls for investment in preventative Mental Health programs for children and families

Smiling Mind today welcomed the Federal Government’s budget and its recognition of the challenges that mental illness po...

Mental Health, Media release 3 minute read

Reflecting on 10 years of Smiling Mind

2022 marks the 10th anniversary of Smiling Mind.  We have experienced such significant social, technological and politic...

Mental Health, Media release 4 minute read
Recent initiatives
Screen Shot 2020-11-16 at 3.30.05 pm

NAIDOC Week with Jack Charles