Mental Wellbeing in Australia - work to be done.

November 13, 2017

Mental Wellbeing in Australia

There has been increasing awareness of mental wellbeing in Australia, and while we are world-leaders in treating heart disease, stroke and cancer and our life expectancy is one of the highest in the world, as a nation we're failing to improve our mental health.

One in every five Australians has a mental illness or substance abuse disorder, a large-scale global health study has found. These are among the findings of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study for 2016, published in The Lancet

The study is the largest and most comprehensive analysis of health and life expectancy globally, covering more than 130 countries. It found that 1.1 billion people globally have a mental illness, affecting all nationalities regardless of socioeconomic status.

Worldwide, treatment for mental illnesses remain low, but even in countries where treatment rates have improved, the prevalence of common mental disorders like depression has changed little. And Australia is no exception, co-founder of the study, University of Melbourne Laureate Professor Alan Lopez, told HuffPost Australia. "We don't seem to be making much improvement in mental wellbeing in Australia. It seems to have been relatively stable over the last two or three decades," he told HuffPost Australia.

"Australia has put in place bold public health measures like tobacco control, drink driving legislation, regulation and enforcement and treatments for blood pressure - bringing down some of the big risks that cause the disease burden. "Where we've been less successful - but indeed, most countries have been less successful - is in attacking mental health and musculoskeletal conditions (i.e. back pain, neck pain and arthritis)."

The findings come just one day after the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) announced that mental health is now the number one condition dominating GPs' time. "It is psychological issues GPs are dealing with most of the time."

Australians are living longer than ever, outlived only by the populations of Japan, Switzerland and Spain. But we're also spending more of those extra years sick or disabled, the Global Burden of Disease study indicated. Mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and drug and alcohol abuse disorders account for almost a quarter of the total number of years spent in ill-health by Australians.

Professor Lopez attributes this in part to the current difficulties in treating mental illness. "It doesn't mean that we don't have treatments, but also people don't always go for treatment - often they just live with their disability."

Mental Wellbeing in Australia can be improved by offering wellness programs at work or school. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, concluded that mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain. 

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

To find out more about wellness programs at work or school contact The Wellness Union.