Young Australians are taught the enduring sun safe message: ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ and schools enforce a ‘no hat, no play’ policy. This reality is the product of decades of intensive clinical research, public education campaigns and targeted interventions for skin cancer prevention. This successful formula has undoubtedly saved thousands of lives.
There’s no equivalent of this scale for preventing the onset of mental illness, but evidence for the prevention of anxiety and depression is strong. With this week’s launch of The Prevention Hub – Australia’s first and largest integrated research initiative into the prevention of anxiety and depression – we are closer to implementing what works at scale in prevention of mental illness.
Headed by two of Australia’s leading health research institutes, the Black Dog Institute and Everymind, this NSW-based Hub will translate the latest research into real-world solutions that takes the best of what we know works in preventing mental illness and makes it available across the lifespan, in the domains where people live, work, study and interact with the health service.
In Australia, it’s estimated that 560,000 young people are at risk of developing depression. If our children or teenagers become unwell during their adolescent years, the most common reasons are for mental illnesses like anxiety or depression. That’s one in six teens who will develop mental illness during adolescence, a critical period for intervening and preventing the onset of poor mental health.
Anxiety and depression are among the most pressing current public health issues. One in five Australians has a mental illness. Two million experience anxiety each year, with one million more living with depression. To forgo prevention activities is effectively the same as waiting and watching as these young Australians steadily join their ranks. This is unconscionable. Yet activities for preventing the onset of mental illness are never seen to be urgent.
Our recent review of published studies from around the world shows that about 11 per cent of those at risk of developing mental illness could be averted through talking therapies like cognitive behaviour therapy. To apply this to Australia, this would equate to 61,600 young people each year. Other evidence suggests that preventive strategies could lower the incidence of depression and anxiety in Australia by 20 per cent. The Prevention Hub, supported by $5 million federal funding, enables us to set bold targets over the next two years to reach people in schools, workplaces and in healthcare.
This work comprises thousands of participants in a number of trials, including scaling up Black Dog Institute’s online ‘virtual clinic’ Smooth Sailing for school students and adapting Everymind’s Partners in Depression program for online delivery. The Hub will be more that a partnership between Black Dog Institute and Everymind. Also involved are researchers from the University of Newcastle, University of NSW, University of Sydney, the ANU, the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University and the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health.
The growing burden of mental ill-health cannot reasonably be stemmed by focusing on treatment alone. Prevention approaches have evidence for effectiveness and excellent return on investment, but perhaps the biggest return is in human capital and potential.
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