Throughout the 18 long months of the COVID pandemic, a parallel mental health crisis has been growing in the shadows.
Now, with more than half the country locked down, this crisis is hidden no more. Mental illness is being experienced in every corner of the country and across all Australian communities. But nobody is more vulnerable than young Australians.
Our kids are hurting, their world has been turned upside down and this is impacting them now but also has long term implications if action isn’t taken.
Smiling Mind is seeing the highest demand for its services since the peak of last year's Melbourne lockdown. There has been a huge demand from young people under 25 and their parents, with 115,000 people using the Smiling Mind app in August alone. This is up 50% from the same time in 2019.
It’s time for action now.
We need immediate action to prevent further mental health challenges and to support those suffering right now. Prevention is the less-shiny side of health. It’s the hard to quantify data on the number of people that didn’t access a clinical mental health service. There isn’t a story if the issue is prevented. But, from a young Australian’s perspective, prevention is about saving lives, about turning this crisis around and supporting our kids to thrive.
Prior to the pandemic, we had underinvested in prevention, and we are running at pace to repeat the same mistakes. Smiling Mind is calling for perspective, and action. In the mental health sector, we cannot continue to focus all our energies on the clinical problem. If we don’t balance investment into prevention as well as treatment, we are only pushing the problem down the road.
Prior to COVID, it would have been unheard of to think that a society would unite in response to a public health measure. Staying at home didn’t require physical strength, it was all mental. After 18 months we are fatigued, of course we are fatigued.
So, what do we do? How do we make sure, as a society we build up our mental health, be stronger than before?
We don’t repeat the same mistakes made prior to 2020.
We focus as much energy into mental illness prevention and building mental health capacity in our young Australians. We know how to do this as well, there have been countless reviews, commissions, round tables and press conferences with solutions aimed at prevention.
Let’s stop talking and invest in prevention.
If we don’t do this, we have a generation of Australians who are set to suffer throughout their lives due to two years of a global pandemic. Two years shouldn’t define a lifetime.
Smiling Mind is calling on Australian governments to take action today to ensure Australian children and young people’s mental health is prioritised alongside the wider plans for a covid recovery. Our children’s mental health is as important as the vaccination pathway out of this pandemic.
Specifically, action needs to be taken in these three key areas:
- Investing in mental health promotion and prevention activity now, to ensure every household has access to tools and resources designed to promote positive mental health outcomes and support skill development and resilience.
- Scaling up support for social and emotional learning and wellbeing programs in every Australian primary and secondary school.
- Leverage technology to ensure access is scalable and that we can provide universal solutions, so that no child is left behind.