Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP thanks the work of mental health workers during Mental Health Month

26 October, 2020


Thankyou to the member for Fisher for moving this timely motion. Recognition of mental health issues in 2020 is particularly important. All too often, when we talk about health, we automatically think of physical health, nutrition, exercise, cholesterol levels and cancer screening, but all of us legislators and the general community, as a whole, need to make sure that a whole-of-body approach is taken in conversations about health and that we recognise that health is about mental, social and physical health. As we all know, it's much easier to respond to an individual's physical health or injury as it's clearly visible. It can be much harder to address an illness or weakness, as in mental health. It's unseen and often hidden by the person experiencing it.

Statistics show the prevalence of mental health is real. According to the federal government's report Mental health services: in brief 2019, 45 per cent of Australian adults aged 16 to 85 will have a common mental disorder in their lifetime. One can only assume that, in the last 12 months since that report was published, the figure has escalated. To address this growing need for mental health support, it's essential that we, from this place, provide quality health care for all Australians. For that, we need a focus on prevention. We need the support of both the public and the private systems, we need excellent health facilities and services, we need a skilled health workforce and we need a strong medical research system. Of course, in 2020, now more than ever, it's important to reach out for help, particularly during Mental Health Month.

We have a number of fantastic national and local organisations that are available to help, so I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the organisations working hard in the electorate of Warringah. They include: Community Northern Beaches, Gotcha4Life, Raise Foundation, Waves of Wellness, Heart On My Sleeve, and CatholicCare Broken Bay Diocese. I'd also like to thank the larger national bodies, including Mental Illness Fellowship Australia, as referenced in the motion before us, but also ReachOut, SANE Australia, Beyond Blue, headspace and Lifeline. These organisations have seen a massive uptake in demand as the impacts of the bushfires and COVID-19 have hit communities hard. The stress of these events has impacted on our communities.

In a recent survey conducted by the Northern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, 27 per cent of people are worrying about the security of their job and 25 per cent have experienced loss of income and/or employment. Many have struggled with the isolation of working from home, the isolation from colleagues and the lack of regular social interaction that the office environment provides. I was worried to read a recent University of Canberra study that found that people in my electorate of Warringah were twice as likely to put off visits to their GP than those elsewhere in Sydney. Given GPs now see more patients for mental health issues than any other illness, that's a worrying trend. Our youth statistics are also worrying. The latest study to come out of the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney predicts that, over the next five years, the prolonged economic impact of COVID-19 will result in a 30 per cent increase in the number of suicides of 15 to 24-year-olds. That is a very worrying statistic.

Locally, this year, I attended the launch of a pilot program run by SANE Australia called Better Off With You, a campaign specifically targeting those who have attempted suicide, to support them and empower them through telling their stories. The Northern Beaches area was chosen as one of two pilot areas, sadly, due to our high rate of suicide. The pilot program officially ended in May and I look forward to seeing the outcomes. I'm pleased to see that the resources and powerful message of Better Off With You are still available online. That's only one example of many programs taking place across Warringah and nationally to provide much needed support for those experiencing mental health challenges. I'm looking forward to marking the end of Mental Health Month by joining the team of Waves of Wellness Foundation on October 31 on the iconic Manly Beach, surfing in our suits to raise the focus on mental health. Maintaining mental health is so crucial. Now, more than ever, it's important to reach out for help. To all those watching and listening, please remember to talk to your friends and family or contact those organisations that can help. We are always better off with you, so, please, do not hesitate to reach out. Thank you.