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

How to set your classroom up for success when it comes to SEL to build student (and teacher!) mental fitness

Cassandra Furst is a passionate primary school teacher who creates a positive learning environment that encourages curio...

Teachers, Students, Schools 7 minute read

Discovering Your True North: How to Find Your Purpose

“What’s my purpose?”

Tips & Tricks, Self care, Mental Fitness 7 minute read

The Educator's Guide for Managing Student Anxiety in the Classroom

Anxiety can be one of the most impactful struggles students face in classrooms today.

Tips & Tricks, Teachers, Schools, Anxiety 8 minute read

Only 1 in 2 parents feel confident meeting the mental health and wellbeing needs of their child

Child mental health is declining, and only one in two parents feel confident meeting the mental health and wellbeing nee...

Children, Family, Mental Fitness 3 minute read
Quote of the week
“You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.”
Pema Chödrön

At home

Only 1 in 2 parents feel confident meeting the mental health and wellbeing needs of their child

Child mental health is declining, and only one in two parents feel confident meeting the mental health and wellbeing nee...

Children, Family, Mental Fitness 3 minute read

A GP’s top tips to support kids’ mental wellbeing

Dr. Preeya Alexander is a mum of two and a GP. She’s passionate about doing what she can to help children thrive—both ph...

Tips & Tricks, Children, Family 3 minute read

Dr Preeya Alexander: Why mental Fitness in Childhood is Fundamental to Long-term Wellbeing

Dr. Preeya Alexander is a mum of two and a GP. She’s passionate about doing what she can to help children thrive—both ph...

Children 3 minute read

At Work

Empower Your Mind: How to Develop a Growth Mindset

Active learning, hard work and valuable feedback can change our brains—literally. Our intelligence is malleable and when...

Workplace, Tips & Tricks, Family 5 minute read

Leading the Way to Wellbeing: How Managers Can Counteract Workplace Stressors

Investing in workplace mental wellbeing is quickly becoming the dividing factor between a thriving business, and one tha...

Workplace, Tips & Tricks 8 minute read

The Art and Science of Compliments in the Workplace: A Comprehensive Guide

Improve mental wellbeing and team cohesiveness in the workplace by opening up communication and encouraging positive enf...

Workplace 5 minute read

At school

How to set your classroom up for success when it comes to SEL to build student (and teacher!) mental fitness

Cassandra Furst is a passionate primary school teacher who creates a positive learning environment that encourages curio...

Teachers, Students, Schools 7 minute read

The Educator's Guide for Managing Student Anxiety in the Classroom

Anxiety can be one of the most impactful struggles students face in classrooms today.

Tips & Tricks, Teachers, Schools, Anxiety 8 minute read

Your Students’ Mental Health: How Physical Spaces Can Make A Difference

Australia's education system is taking kids’ mental health more seriously than ever. So, what if we told you that the de...

Teachers, Students, Schools, Mental Health 8 minute read

News

3.6 million invested in a revolutionary approach to mental health for Australian children and families

Preventing mental illness before it starts is at the heart of a bold new partnership spearheaded by Smiling Mind and bol...

Mental Health, Media release 4 minute read

Meet the duo who walked 50km in one day to raise money for kids’ mental health

Would you walk 50km in one day? What would make you want to?

Schools, Media release 5 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
Recent initiatives
Screen Shot 2020-11-16 at 3.30.05 pm

NAIDOC Week with Jack Charles