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Australians voice concerns over growing mental health pressure points

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on us all, with outbreaks and lockdowns disrupting people’s lives. Education systems, social interactions, job losses and housing affordability are just some of the drivers for the high rates of mental illness and psychological toll, particularly on young Australians.

This has been a focus for Australia’s Mental Health Think Tank, established early in 2020 through a partnership between the University of Sydney’s Matilda Centre and the BHP Foundation,

In preparation for the inevitable mental health impacts of COVID-19, the Think Tank brought together experts from the Matilda Centre and Australia’s Mental Health Think Tank, University of Sydney, to focus on the big ideas for addressing long-term mental health.

Recently they conducted a study surveying over 1,000 adult Australians from across the country, to hear directly from the community on the major concerns impacting mental health:  the mental health service system, financial stress, and social disconnection.

“In this study we wanted to include the voices of those outside the mental health system – the lived experiences of everyday Australians are invaluable in informing targeted policy planning and to improve Australian mental health care,”  lead author Dr Marlee Bower said.

With many Australians seeking mental health access for the first time in their lives, they found they were faced with multiple barriers to access.

“Many respondents said accessing the current mental health support system was expensive and difficult to navigate and, compounded by the community and political stigma about what it means to be unemployed, receive welfare or mental health support”, Dr Bower said.

The study found that the COVID-19 pandemic ‘pressurised’ existing triggers for poor mental health by amplifying financial stress and reducing social support and connection. The key findings of the report included:

  • A fifth of the participants said two major factors that impacted mental health were the increase in financial hardship and changes in their social support system and structures.
  • More than one in five people highlighted COVID-19 increased pressures on an overburdened mental health system.
  • Almost one in 10 participants described the pandemic as fragmenting their social networks, and worsening feelings of isolation and disconnection.
  • Many reported how the break on social contact during the pandemic has had a long-term effect and feeling of discomfort on socialising again.
  • The findings show that mental healthcare is not just about delivering psychological treatment, but also financial support, employment and social support. Whole-of-government policies spanning social services and welfare, finance, housing, education, family and community and workforce are needed to achieve tangible impacts on Australians’ mental health.

The voices of these diverse Australian’s surveyed in the study will help provide clear guidance for the government to build a more resilient and mentally healthy future.

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Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez