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Byron Shire
April 21, 2021

Australia ‘has a long way to go on depression’

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Patrick-McGorryAustralian mental health leaders Pat McGorry and Jack Heath joined a gathering of international policymakers, health and business leaders and academics in London to examine the urgent need for a global response to the growing impact of depression.

‘Depression is biggest mental health challenge among people of working-age, and the leading cause of disability worldwide,’ explains Jack Heath, CEO of the national mental health charity, SANE Australia.

Opened by Kofi Annan, former Secretary General, United Nations, The Global Crisis of Depression – The Low of the 21st Century? shone a light on the serious public health concern that is placing an increasing strain on social wellbeing and economic productivity across the world.

Annan advocated that mental health should be placed on the post 2015 Millennium Development Goals agenda and that reducing the stigma around mental health was an absolute priority.

‘Hosted by The Economist magazine, leaders from across business, government and health sectors have come together to discuss how we can work collectively to address the true scale and burden of depression. It’s undoubtedly the first time mental illness is being given the attention we pay to major physical health problems,’ Heath adds.

Research released last year by SANE Australia found that while Australian workers were more likely to know the symptoms for depression than their European counterparts, they were far less likely to disclose their condition to their employer.

‘Only 55 per cent of Australian workers would inform their employer if they required time off for depression, compared to 72 per cent in Europe.’

Heath says while large Australian businesses are providing far better support than the large European businesses, more needs to be done with small and medium sized businesses in Australia.

‘Despite all the great work done to increase awareness about depression, far too many people still don’t feel its okay to talk about their illness and we need to change this,’ Heath adds.

‘The challenge is to ensure our workplaces are better equipped to support people experiencing depression along with other forms of mental illness. People need to get effective help early on and then get back to work quickly and, most importantly, healthy.  At the same time, we need to focus our efforts on preventing depression, including through evidence-based mindfulness practices.

‘It is clear, however, that Australia is way ahead on many fronts including in the youth area but we still have a long way to go,’ said Heath.

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  1. It is excellent that the ‘mental illness’ of depression is being focused on in terms of awareness and early treatment; however, it is sad that one of the reasons for this focus is a perceived need for humans to be more economically productive. Perhaps a focus on increased efforts to change some of the conditions in the world that can lead to a sense of powerlessness and then despair – like endemic widespread and unfair poverty in many non-‘western’ nations, like the growing list of poisons in our food, water and air, like the proliferation of small wars, like the growing awareness of the extent of sexual abuse in institutions – would also be useful.

    I understand that depression can have a purely physical cause. But the sheer scale of what we are faced with must surely have a place in the causes of depression. Perhaps depression is sometimes an entirely rational response.


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