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

5 minutes with illustrator, Ben Sanders

Ben spends his days drawing and writing in his little studio in Ballarat, Victoria. Some days he illustrates for interna...

Self care, Informal mindfulness 3 minute read

Responding to the “hidden” youth mental health crisis

Throughout the 18 long months of the COVID pandemic, a parallel mental health crisis has been growing in the shadows. No...

Children, Students, Mental Health 2 minute read

R U OK? - Getting the most out of checking in

So you asked “R U OK?”, and they said, “I’m fine”. What now?

Workplace, Mental Health, Mindfulness 3 minute read

R U OK? - And are you really listening?

Attention - it’s one of the hardest mental skills to master, yet one of the greatest gifts you can give another person. ...

Workplace, Mental Health, Mindfulness 2 minute read
Quote of the week
“You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.”
Pema Chödrön

At home

Responding to the “hidden” youth mental health crisis

Throughout the 18 long months of the COVID pandemic, a parallel mental health crisis has been growing in the shadows. No...

Children, Students, Mental Health 2 minute read

5 simple ways to get your kids into mindfulness

Mindfulness has many benefits for your mental health, which is equally as important as your physical health. 

Children, Family 4 minute read

How mindfulness can help during Coronavirus

We are living through an unprecedented and uncertain time, requiring each of us to navigate our way, as best we can, thr...

Children, Family, Parents, Anxiety 6 minute read

At Work

R U OK? - Getting the most out of checking in

So you asked “R U OK?”, and they said, “I’m fine”. What now?

Workplace, Mental Health, Mindfulness 3 minute read

R U OK? - And are you really listening?

Attention - it’s one of the hardest mental skills to master, yet one of the greatest gifts you can give another person. ...

Workplace, Mental Health, Mindfulness 2 minute read

Beating Burnout

We’ve all felt it at some point in our working lives. Looking up from your work to realise it’s nearly dinner time or ly...

Workplace, Mental Health, Mindfulness 4 minute read

At school

5 minutes with Principal, Tip Kennedy.

Meet Tip Kennedy. Tip is a principal at Richmond West, an inner Melbourne primary school that recently received its very...

Teachers, Schools 3 minute read

Which Smiling Mind Space is right for your school?

We are all influenced by our surroundings and as we explored in our previous post, the various ‘spaces’ in our lives are...

Teachers, Schools 4 minute read

How a mindful space can support your students

Since 2012, Smiling Mind has supported healthy minds thrive in Australian schools by providing tools that develop life-l...

Teachers, Schools 3 minute read

News

Partnership Announcement - Kmart

We are excited today to announce a new partnership between Smiling Mind and Kmart. Built on a shared vision of a happier...

Mental Health, Media release 1 minute read

Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System is a game changer for mental health prevention

Smiling Mind has supported findings released today from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, speci...

Media release 1 minute read

New mental health program to support 600 schools across regional and rural Australia

As students settle into classrooms for the new school year, leading mental health not-for-profit Smiling Mind has opened...

Media release 2 minute read
Recent initiatives
Screen Shot 2020-11-16 at 3.30.05 pm

NAIDOC Week with Jack Charles