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Mental health experts urge governments to act on prevention

Mental and public health experts will gather in Melbourne tomorrow, Tuesday 12 March, to discuss the growing number of young Australians experiencing mental illness, and encourage governments to tailor their investments in programs which help protect and promote mental wellbeing.  

The Public Health Association of Australia’s inaugural Preventive Mental Health Symposium, hosted in partnership with Beyond Blue, is the first of its kind to bring together mental health and public health experts with a specific focus on preventing mental health conditions.

The National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing found that of Australians aged 16-85 from 2020-2022, an estimated 8.5 million people, or 43% of the population, had experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life. Of these, 39% of young adults (aged 16-24) had experienced a 12-month mental disorder; up from 26% in 2007.

Dr Stephen Carbone, Symposium Co-organiser and Co-convenor of the Association’s Mental Health Special Interest Group, says action is urgent.  

“The prevalence of mental health conditions is increasing across the community but particularly among young people, despite continual and growing government investment in mental healthcare services and support,” says Dr Carbone, who is also Prevention United CEO.

“Today, most mental health policy and funding is aimed at treating people once they become unwell. There is insufficient emphasis on preventive mental health. Mental health conditions are not inevitable, and some common disorders can be prevented. We must do more to stop mental illness from occurring in the first place.

“Experts will share their latest research about all of the potential causes of deteriorating mental health among Australians from child maltreatment and changes in parenting through to physical activity, diet, social media, bullying and COVID-19, and even climate change.”

Beyond Blue’s Chief Engagement Officer Greg Jennings says it’s time for Australia to change its approach.

“If we want to make a genuine difference and stem the tide in the rising prevalence of mental health issues in this country, we need to shift our attention upstream, to address the causes of mental health conditions.

“Our current system is crisis-driven, but as mental health rates continue to rise, the time has come to consider a preventive approach to mental health. We look forward to working with the sector to drive this necessary change to improve mental well-being of everyone in Australia.

“Beyond Blue is pleased to partner in this landmark event. Preventive mental health is perfectly aligned with our role in improving mental health and making it easier for people to feel better earlier, get well, and stay well.”

Adjunct Professor Terry Slevin, the Association’s CEO, says that symposium should help inform the Australian Government’s National Preventive Health Strategy.

“This prevention strategy includes a focus on promoting and protecting mental health, but it doesn’t articulate how this will be implemented.

“The public health and mental health communities will be key in advising Government on how the mental health burden can be reduced through prevention.

“If we don’t get this right, the results will echo for generations.” 

Image by on Freepik.

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