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Briefly describe the nature, extent and determinants of one (1) of Australia’s national health priority issues and present an argument as to why it is a significant health issue currently facing Australians.
The National Health Priority Areas (NHPA) initiative consist of six different issues. It aims to create awareness of each of the areas within the 3 different levels of government. Mental health issues have become increasingly prominent with the higher usage rate of technology, illicit substances as well as the lack of quality communication and interaction between people. The need for mental health awareness and better communication is essential to decrease the burden of disease from mental disorders. Furthermore, education and additional resources are of paramount importance to improving the mental health of Australia.
Mental health incorporates a wide range of different characteristics from addiction to anxiety. Almost half (45% or 7.3 million) of Australia’s population have or will suffer from some sort of mental illness in their lifetime (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2014/15, pp. 22). Mental health issues are like physical health issues in the way that they can arise from a genetic predisposition or stressors in life (What is Mental Illness, n.d. para. 5). For some, having a mental illness can be a ‘one-off’ episode, while for others it can be a lifelong battle. The severity and nature of the disorder is diagnosed by a medical professional taking into consideration of the intensity and duration of the illness. While there are medications and options to get help, often a patient does not admit there is a problem or cannot access or afford to pay for services such as seeing a phycologist. The main concern with this is that the leading cause of death between people aged 15 to 44 is suicide (Facts about Suicide in Australia, n.d. 2019). Mental health conditions are influenced and potentially caused by genetic predisposition, substance addiction, abuse, stressful life events and poor general health.
A dependency on alcohol is the most prevalent issue when it comes to substance abuse. The most common way to ‘wind down’ in Australia is to have an alcoholic beverage. There are multiple websites found in a google search teaching foreign people about how important drinking is in Australia. Sadly, this culture has a very dark side to it. According to the Annual alcohol poll 2017 “78% of Australians believe excess drinking is a problem, and 92% say alcohol is linked to domestic violence” (Australia’s toxic drinking culture exposed, 2017). People who experience domestic violence or abuse are much more susceptible to experiencing a range of mental health conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, substance abuse and have suicidal tendencies (Parker, 2019). Methamphetamine, often referred to as Ice, has become more pure than ever before, thus an increase in the use of the substance can be seen. This statistic has been proven by the rise of ambulance callouts, emergency department attendance of ice-affected users, and the rise in the number of people testing positive for ice by police (Lay, 2015 pp 16, 34). With the most common effects being psychosis, depression and anxiety, methamphetamine use is linked to the inability to produce appropriate levels of the chemical dopamine therefore resulting in mental disorders. One of the main reasons mental health is on Australia’s national health priority list is due to the strong link between the growth of substance abuse and mental disorders. The consumption of alcohol and illicit substances such as Methamphetamine (Ice) in rural areas higher than those in their metropolitan counterparts. Statistics state the alcohol consumption is up to 12% higher and ice use up to 2.5 times greater (Miller et al., 2010, p 111, 113) (“How many people use Ice” 2019)
Remote areas around Australia are not just seeing an increase of mental health issues from the increase of substance abuse. The stressors of drought in the agricultural industry have seen farmers and families “brought to their knees” (Armstrong & Boyd, 2019) . A lack of rainfall and warmer temperatures over the past few years all over Australia have meant that farmers have had an extremely hard time creating and keeping water storages and in turn have had more trouble obtaining feed for their livestock. Furthermore, the stress on farmers may increase the prices of food and lower the export quantity therefore placing a financial burden on the rest of Australia as the cost of living increases. The effect of this increases the strain on the mental health of majority of Australia as an increase of cost of living can also be detrimental to those who are paying ridiculous amounts for rent in the major cities. In a way, everything is connected. Currently, Australia’s drought is at the worst it has been with 99.5 per cent of NSW experiencing drought (Armstrong & Boyd, 2019) meaning farmers and other small businesses such as pubs, general stores and post offices in remote areas are suffering more than ever. Australians located in remote areas have far less access to health care and unfortunately are often isolated from contact with family and friends which according to the ABS (2007) those who do not have contact with family or friends are more likely to have a long-term mental disorder lasting longer than one year.
The level of accessibility and amount the government is spending on mental health is getting better with $736.6 Million spent on mental health and suicide prevention over the next 7 years (2019 Budget Summary, pp. 2). There are many options to get help including 24/7 hotlines such as lifeline, beyond blue, kids’ helpline, reach out and SANE Australia. All of these options are available to those who need. However, getting help from these services is a “one stop shop” the access to services beyond this one call can be limited to only 10 government funded sessions for an individual per year (“low cost of free mental health services,” 2017, para 8). When someone has a mental health condition they do not want to get help. They either don’t believe they have a problem, or they simply do not have the motivation to get better. The stigma behind talking about feelings has been a significant detriment to the male population. Men in general are not as likely to seek help compared to women, and 76% of suicides are men in Australia (“facts about suicide,” 2019). Firstly, the Australian government needs address these issues with communication and develop more effective awareness of the wide range of services available. Secondly, create more spaces similar to the Men’s Shed or non-competitive sporting groups where people are able to go and talk and create connections with people. And finally, the government should advocate a healthy more active lifestyle and make more of an effort when it comes to getting people out and about where they can communicate and socialise with others.
In conclusion, the extent of mental health conditions has continued to rise despite the amount of money the government is spending on it. The resources have been made available, yet they have not been implemented well and the population is still suffering. A “war” on drugs is not going to help, the government needs to care for those affected by addiction, they need to show a better path compared to one where the high that drug and alcohol abuse causes is better than anything else. Working towards improved communication, education and a sense of community for those far away will help to eliminate the burden of disease and ease the pain of mental health issues.
- Armstrong, C & Boyd, E. (2019) Adopt a farmer: Australia’s drought wreaks devastation in the bush but here’s a chance to help. Retrieved from: https://www.news.com.au/national/nsw-act/adopt-a-farmer-australias-drought-wreaks-devastation-in-the-bush-but-heres-a-chance-to-help/news-story/2bcaf2dee44d4ef237a585ea8742c977
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2007) National Survey of Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results. Canberra, Australia: Author. Para: Contact with family and friends.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2014/15). National Health Survey: Mental and Behavioural Conditions (No. 4364.0.55.001). Canberra, Australia: Author. Pp. 22
- Facts about suicide in Australia. (2019). Black dog institute. Retrieved from: https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/clinical-resources/suicide-self-harm/facts-about-suicide-in-australia
- How many people use ice. (2019). Cracks in the ice. Pp.3. Retrieved from: https://cracksintheice.org.au/pdf/download/how-many-people-use-ice.pdf
- Miller, P. Coomber, K. Straiger, P. Zinkiewicz, L. Toumbourou, J. (2010) Review of rural and alcohol research in Australia. The Australian Journal of Rural Health. Pp. 111, 114.
- What is Mental Illness (n.d.). SANE Australia Retrieved from: https://www.sane.org/information-stories/facts-and-guides/what-is-mental-illness
- 2019 Budget Summary. (2019). Mental Health Australia – 2019 Federal budget. Retrieved from: https://mhaustralia.org/sites/default/files/docs/2019_mental_health_australia_budget_summary.pdf
- Low cost or free mental health services. (2017). Health direct. Retrieved from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/low-cost-or-free-mental-health-services
- Lay, K. 6/10/15. Chapter 2 – Demand for Ice. Final Report of the National Ice Taskforce. Pp. 16-34. Retrieved from: https://www.pmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/publications/national_ice_taskforce_final_report.pdf
- Australia’s Toxic drinking culture Exposed. (27/04/2017) SBS News. Retrieved from: https://www.sbs.com.au/news/australia-s-toxic-drinking-culture-exposed
- Parker, R. 19/02/2019. How domestic violence affects women’s mental health. The Conversation. Retrieved from: https://theconversation.com/how-domestic-violence-affects-womens-mental-health-104926
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