Mental ill-health is costing us about 4% of GDP, a figure that one of Australia’s best-known researchers and Co-Director of Health and Policy at The University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, Professor Ian Hickie, says holds its own meaning.
“It clearly points out a chaotic system, that’s poorly funded and was never designed to deliver mental health for those who are in trouble or mental wealth for the nation in the 21st century,” he says.
According to Professor Hickie, over the last two decades, we have seen the rapid increase of interest in mental health and the damaging economic costs associated with a mentally ill population.
Hickie admits that Scott Morrison has said mental health matters. However, he says this awareness must be paired with greater action to improve Australia’s mental wealth.
“Here we need actions, not words. We need serious, deep and continuing investments in the hard issues. Not platitudes. Not, “we care, but actually we won’t act,’” Hickie says.
Hickie believes this begins with investing in the lives and minds of Australia’s youth.
“Much of our mental wealth isn’t under the ground in Western Australia. It’s actually inside people’s heads and it’s particularly inside the developing heads of young people, children, young adults, as they pass through education, employment skills training and create our economic future,” he says.
We already know the economic effects of COVID will place a huge burden on the mental wealth of our economy. However, Hickie suggests the most heavily hit and those who will be unable to get through this crisis unharmed are young Australians.
“Of the 830,000 jobs lost in April and May, not only were 52% in women, 45% were in young people.
“It’s devastating for casual employment, for part-time employment, for people who are combining education with employment, who don’t yet have the skills, the assets, the careers to simply sail through this crisis relatively unscathed,” he says.
According to Hickie, these statistics are concerning for multiple reasons. Research has shown that suicide rates correlate with employment rates and educational achievement, which is why investment in these areas is so important.
“Where unemployment is high and education achievement is low, suicide rates are already two to three times the national average.
But the devastating effects go well beyond our employment status. Research has shown suicide rates correlate strongly with employment rates (if it’s low, suicide rates rise) and educational achievement (suicide rates are two to three times higher in people with lower education) – even more reason that why investment in both employment and education is so important.
Hickie believes government action is vital, but he also says Australia can’t get complacent, and we need to take action to inform government about where leadership is needed.
“Leadership doesn’t come from Canberra.
“What’s really required is those who are in business, in higher education, in social agencies, and in local communities to take action themselves and then say to government, “What we need you to do is support these various areas that demand attention,”’ Hickie says.