Yesterday marked World Health Day, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) focusing global attention on urgent actions needed to keep humans and the planet healthy and foster a movement to create societies focused on well-being.
The WHO website lists a plethora of (rather gloomy) statistics about the environment and the need for urgency to address not only the global climate crisis but the estimated 13 million deaths around the world each year due to avoidable environmental causes. Essentially, 13 million preventable deaths. The WHO quite righty classifies the climate crisis as a health crisis.
We agree and in 2021 Mental Health Australia developed a paper positing that climate change poses a threat to the mental health of Australians.
The WHO also state that “well-being societies are healthy societies” noting that “the pandemic has revealed weaknesses in all areas of society and underlined the urgency of creating sustainable well-being societies committed to achieving equitable health now and for future generations without breaching ecological limits”. Millions of people face bereavement, loss, reduced access to health care because of pandemic-related inequality. Over 75% of the global population have poor access to mental health care. Only 2% of the global health budget is spent on mental health.
The key observation here is ‘equity’ – our political, social and commercial decisions are driving the many inequities we see in society, and within the mental health ecosystem.
Notably, the World Health Day theme is also reflected in the recent announcement by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) of the theme for 2022 World Mental Health Day: Mental Health is a global priority.
Just as climate change is a global issue and requires international collaboration, so too is mental health. The pandemic has only highlighted broken systems and inequities in already underfunded health and mental health services. In 2021 the UN Secretary-General said that, without determined action, the mental health impact of COVID 19 may last far longer than the pandemic itself and urged us to act to redress the glaring inequalities exposed by the pandemic, including the inequality in access to mental health services.
On behalf of our members, Mental Health Australia advocates for equality and system reform but also for policy improvements on those social determinants that can impact on our mental health. Climate change is just one.
Mental Health Australia, a member of the WFMH, applauds the call for a radical change worldwide for early recognition of mental health concerns (discovery) and time intervention aimed at improving coping and resilience (recovery).
From the pandemic to petrol prices, we know people are under extreme pressures at the moment, and that can have a huge impact on the mental health of individuals and communities.
We also know our mental health system has been under serious pressures for many years now, and while there have been reviews, reports and recommendations to improve our system, the progress and systemic action has been slow and disappointing.
The 2022 Federal Election is our chance to highlight how every election issue can impact the mental health of individuals, families, our mental health system, and the mental health of our communities. This is our chance to look beyond just the health portfolio and look at all the issues and policy announcements with mental health in mind.
In the same vein as the WHO’s theme for World Health Day, we know that EVERY election issue is a mental health issue.
Over the coming weeks, Mental Health Australia will disseminate a range of issues papers and other resources for you and your organisations to leverage and use to lobby your MPs and local candidates. These resources can be found on our website. We look forward to working with you at this critical juncture as we continue to strive for mental healthy people and mentally healthy communities.
Have a great weekend.
Dr Leanne Beagley
CEO, Mental Health Australia