Yesterday, former PM Julia Gillard in her role as Chair of Beyond Blue wrote an article that is truly important.
It not only highlights the fact that a national mental health response and recovery plan related to COVID-19 will be vital but indicates that irrespective of the pandemic and its implications, Australia “went into this crisis with a mental health system in need of profound change”.
We cannot ignore the fact that many people with mental health issues prior to the events of the last few months will be severely impacted by many aspects of the pandemic and the changes it has imposed on us. But it’s also important to acknowledge that anxiety and depression will be impacting those unfamiliar with mental challenges prior to this significant global event.
Julia Gillard, as well as reporting on what has already been noted about people’s use of and need for the right support to this point, underlines the ongoing positive implications of the fact that this crisis has demonstrated the capacity of the mental health community to “swiftly design and implement reforms which impact behaviour, improve outcomes, and which the community will embrace.” Our capacity to find ways to connect, adapt and collaborate have been adept and creative. So …
“We need to keep this spirit alive as we work to build a mental health system in which people seeking support have options that match their needs. We must use this opportunity to close some of the structural gaps in the system and address affordability.”
In a challenging period for the world, it’s important to find positives. And we can have hope that a country with the capacity to acknowledge an urgent need for change and take swift and decisive action is one that can apply a similar approach to critical issues beyond the pandemic. That a government that is able to take a bipartisan approach to ensure the health of its citizens should utilise the same method when lives are at stake in epidemic proportions in the way we see mental health issues having such a devastating effect outside the impacts of a pandemic.
We shall be expecting a lot from our health and other support services when the acute period of this COVID-19 crisis is behind us. But now we know that they are able to rise to such challenges, those expectations should be able to be met. And we have a right to insist that they are.
Saving lives is what had driven the unprecedented response of governments across the world to the spread of the coronavirus. And saving lives is what is always at the heart of what we demand of our mental health support services in any situation. We must always seek to find and expect the best ways to save lives … from ending AND from the dire consequences of deep suffering due to trauma, hopelessness and the many other torments of mental illness.
Julia Gillard states in her article that:
“the current shock can be what pushes us forward and delivers some of the changes people, families and communities have long needed.”
So we move towards a future armed with the knowledge that our governments can and will act in urgent circumstances. And we should accept nothing less long after this pandemic is over.
Significant change is something long overdue for mental health systems across Australia. And with the best evidence possible that systems can be altered dramatically when required, this crisis may provide us with the impetus to create a future that is not “back to normal” but ahead to the development of a system that finally genuinely responds to the needs of those it seeks to help.