5 November 2019, Australia – The Productivity Commission has released its draft report on mental health in Australia, with ongoing stigma and a limited understanding of how to access support flagged as key challenges.
The Social and Economic Benefits of Improving Mental Health draft report found that good mental health supports economic participation and productivity over the long-term.
$500 million a day: that is the estimated direct economic cost of mental ill-health and suicide in Australia.
It is difficult even with this alarming figure to truly comprehend the impact that one individual’s experience with mental ill-health or a suicide can have on families, friends and the community. Often the economic cost isn’t what matters most and we would do whatever it takes to ensure those around us know that we care, that they aren’t a burden and we want to support them.
These findings indicate that investing in the mental health of Australians is a smart and important investment. It also clearly points to the pivotal role we can all play in taking us in the right direction; whether you’re a teacher, a friend, a parent, a colleague, a boss, a classmate, or the government.
batyr welcomes the Productivity Commission’s Mental Health Inquiry draft report and, with it, acknowledges that behind the recommendations, the data, the numbers are real people and communities affected by mental ill-health, who need the support of the whole nation.
“The findings give weight to and confirm what many of us have known for a long time, that good mental health supports economic participation and productivity over the long-term but that significant changes to our current system and a greater focus on prevention and early intervention are key in improving mental health outcomes,” said batyr CEO, Nic Brown.
In order to achieve these outcomes, batyr outlined three areas of focus in its submission to the Productivity Commission:
- Prevention and education to reduce stigma
- The power of sharing lived experience to create behavioural change.
- Community building to increase social inclusion and reduce isolation of young people.
batyr is working to create a space for positive change, so that all Australians can lead mentally healthy lives, and we believe the above focus areas are crucial in achieving this.
Preventative education to reduce stigma
Community awareness about mental ill-health has come a long way but stigma remains a significant barrier to help-seeking.
A recent joint survey by Mission Australia and Black Dog Institute found that two of the three most commonly cited barriers that prevent young people from seeking help centre around stigma, specifically embarrassment and fear. The other barrier was a lack of support (Can we talk? Seven year youth mental health report – 2012-2018 Youth Survey).
Stigma is a common theme that has come through more than 700 stories we have heard from young people through the batyr ‘Being Herd’ Workshops as well as the more than 200,000 young people that have experienced a batyr program. Stigma continues to prevent young people from reaching out to professional support and contributes to avoiding accessing support before crisis point.
Not accessing help early can ultimately have a long-term negative effect on Australia’s economy and level of productivity. The report found that the cost to Australia of mental ill-health and suicide is $43-51 billion per year.
That is why raising a generation of young people who develop the skills and resilience to manage their mental health early on in life is an investment in their future as individuals and in the broader community. Schools are the gateway to providing early support and prevention but are often relied on without the proper support, training or resourcing to best deal with it.
“Mental health organisations, service providers and the Government need to work together to provide integrated solutions for schools,” batyr CEO Nic Brown said.
“As a sector, we need to come together to make the process for schools to access preventative education programs easy and ensure language and content is consistent and effective.”
“These programs not only need to be accessible for the schools and teachers but engaging and relevant to the students.”
Specific education around how an individual can look out for their friends, take charge of their mental health, and access services in their local community can positively contribute to improving mental health outcomes.
There are a number of programs and services that are able to do this and it will take coming together to ensure all schools and the full school community, from early childhood through to tertiary education, has access to these programs across the country and it is a seamless and helpful process.
The power of sharing lived experience to create behavioural change
Investing to bring young people to the forefront of government decisions and having platforms to share their lived experiences safely to help other young people is an important recommendation.
It has been proven that sharing lived experience stories is the most effective way to change negative perceptions of mental health (Research and the elimination of the stigma of mental illness, Patrick Corrigan, 2016).
It can also help young people not to feel so alone, and through listening to real experiences of young people navigating the health system, it educates them on what support is available and how to find the right fit and persevere. Stories of hope and resilience can model to others that it is possible to get through tough times, remind us that people care, and find ways to manage your mental wellbeing. (Direct excerpt from batyr’s submission to the commission and highlighted in Vol.2 of the draft report)
The draft report recommends a national stigma reduction strategy that focuses on the experiences of people with mental ill-health that is poorly understood in the community. An essential element of stigma reduction campaigns is the role of people with lived experience. Incorporating the views and recovery stories of people with lived experience is necessary for effective contact interventions. (Direct excerpt from batyr’s submission to the commission and highlighted in Vol.2 of the draft report)
When addressing stigma, we need to not only focus on awareness but also how we increase knowledge, shift attitudes and behaviours as well. It needs to include a focus not just on awareness but also on social contact, digital social contact, education, working with the media and celebrating initiatives that reduce stigma.
Investing in the power of storytelling by young people for young people also contributes to improvements in wellbeing for those sharing their stories. Common feedback from those trained to safely share their stories through batyr is that many experience a reduction in self-stigma, they feel their experience with a mental illness does not define them and won’t hold them back anymore, they believe they aren’t alone, they feel they can begin to share their experiences more openly with friends and family, and they gain a sense of empowerment to help even just one other person with their story.
Community building to increase social inclusion and reduce isolation of young people
A key area that has been highlighted is the isolation that exists in certain communities, particularly regional and rural areas in Australia. Information from ReachOut informs that social isolation, stigma, and barriers to accessing services all contribute to feelings of disconnect and even greater mental ill health (2017).
Investing in building communities for young people to feel connected to others will have countless positive impacts in all regions. There are a large amount of volunteer run organisations, in particular in regional and rural areas (volunteer emergency services, SES, Rotary, Lions Club, church and religious groups, sport clubs, CWA etc.) that have dual purposes of helping others, while contributing to a sense of belonging to those who serve in them.
Tertiary education institutions like universities can also play a key role in providing a sense of community and support. The Productivity Commission recommended training for educators in tertiary education institutions, coupled with revised wellbeing frameworks. However, this training is vital across the board, and shouldn’t be limited to the tertiary sector.
In a recent thematic analysis of the stories written by 83 active lived experience batyr speakers, a common aspect of a young person’s transition to recover and ability to sustain it, was that of “an anchor person” – someone who is always there, giving unconditional support and/or love.
“This “anchor person” can not be overlooked and anyone in the community can play that role,” Nic said.
“Training individuals in communities, like teachers, lecturers, friends, family, coaches on how to support the mental health of others, what signs and symptoms to look out for, how to be that support, can help re-engineer existing communities to improve mental health outcomes for all.”
“Through this investment, local community members can continue driving their own change to see long-term, sustainable change.”
Towards coordinated care and a fully integrated system
The Productivity Commission chairman Michael Brennan said that there is no “magic wand” and a “multi-faceted approach” is the most effective way forward which is important to remember also.
The report has detailed recommendations about the use of GPs as the front line for mental health services and the role of institutions outside the health system in preventing and detecting mental health problems.
A more integrated mental health system is needed in order to achieve a person-centred and coordinated approach to treatment. This must be coupled with continued investment in preventative mental health education and a community lead approach to ensure some of these issues are addressed much earlier.
National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement
batyr welcome the Productivity Commission’s recommendation for a National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement as a key part of the re-build model. This is an important step but just as important is to be doing things now and to ensure that, in the meantime, communities know how to look after themselves and each other while reform and systems change is implemented.
Along with the draft report from the Productivity Commission, the National Mental Health Commission (NMHC) is working on a 2030 vision for mental health and suicide prevention, and a Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System is expected to deliver an interim report in late November.
We look forward to reading the final recommendations from the Productivity Commission, as well as listening to public hearings that begin in Canberra in mid-November.