Content warning: this post contains details of depression and suicide, and may be triggering for some readers.
Today, the second Thursday of September, is R U OK? day.
The campaign serves as a national reminder to sincerely ask our mates, R U OK? and hopes to stimulate a broader, ongoing conversation about the state of our mental health.
It is, in my opinion, one of the most important days on our calendar. The simple question promotes awareness of Australia’s most lethal health condition for young people, and goes some way in destigmatising mental illness.
My concern is, however, that as a country, we are not at all prepared for the answer.
Research estimates that one in five people are not OK today.
Approximately one million Australians are suffering from depression, and an estimated two million from anxiety.
We know that the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 44 is suicide.
In any given year, 65,000 Australians will attempt to take their own life.
Just today, it is estimated that we will lose eight Australians to suicide.
But despite the fact that mental illness accounts for an enormous 14 per cent of our country’s health burden, less than seven per cent of health expenditure goes towards mental illness.
A few years ago, I realised I was not OK.
I went to my local GP, who had me tick a few boxes on a sheet of paper, before prescribing me a very high dosage of medication with no forewarning of the debilitating side effects.
I was then referred to a psychologist. At the time I was a University student who could barely afford my train fare. The consultation cost me $140.
Scroll through to see more photos from R U OK? Day. Images via Instagram. (Post continues after gallery.)
I went back to my GP and explained that this was a fee I could simply not afford. He suggested my parents help out with the cost, and looked at me sympathetically while I cried in his office.
Eventually I found Headspace, which is a phenomenal service available to any Australian under the age of 25.
Despite the fact that Headspace is internationally revered, and has been exported all over the world, our government has decided in 2016 to cut funding to the service.
In June, The Daily Telegraph interviewed dozens of mental health experts and reported that “every single one” believes the imminent restructuring means “the likely death of Headspace”. They also reported that the government has reduced its headspace budget from $19 million to $8 million per annum next year, and $5 million the following year.
On top of that, 65 per cent of adults suffering from mental illness don’t seek help. The statistics don’t tell us why that is, but I have a hunch.
There is a significant correlation between mental illness and low socioeconomic status or unemployment. So if you are unwell, it is unlikely that you can afford treatment.
Is our obsession with being “happy” actually making us sadder? (Post continues after audio.)
Research conducted by Medibank says that those who have sought treatment from mental health services are unsatisfied, and report that their needs have not been met. Such feedback is not consistent with other health services in Australia.
Headspace’s Patrick McGorry says “We deserve the same level of care for our mental health as our physical health and we are getting nowhere near it.”
Despite the reality that is one of the leading causes of death in our country, hospital admissions for mental health problems are less than 1 per cent.
This national epidemic, of alarming proportions, is killing our young people. As a nation, mental health is one of our most pressing issues.
As well as check in with those around us, today we need to tell our government that our current system for dealing with mental health is absolutely not OK.
Cutting funding is not OK.
Closing down facilities is South Australia, is not OK.
Failing to make this a national priority is absolutely not OK.
Asking R U OK? is an incredible initiative that has the power to change our dialogue around mental health.
But what we really need, more than anything, is somewhere for people to go when they’re not.
If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.