Nominations are now open for 2023 for the prestigious Australian Mental Health Prize. The Prize, established by the UNSW Sydney’s Discipline of Psychiatry and Mental Health, shines a light on the mental health challenges in our communities and the importance of continued support.
"The state of mental health in Australia is concerning, with notable increases in depression, anxiety, and suicide rates, especially among young people,” says Professor Allan Fels AO, co-chair of the Australian Mental Health Prize Advisory Committee and previous recipient of the Prize.
“The shortage of mental health professionals poses a significant challenge, leading to a workforce crisis in the sector. Additionally, the low priority given to mental health in comparison to other areas like defence, NDIS, and aged care is a cause of great concern."
Moreover, the growing demand for mental health services is not being matched by the available resources, leaving the "missing middle" without access to essential services.
"We urgently need to not only maintain but invest more in mental health services and resources to meet the growing demand for support. This means investing in the mental health workforce and providing greater access to evidence-based treatments," says Lucy Brogden AM, co-chair of the Australian Mental Health Prize Advisory Committee.
"Although short-term crisis support services are crucial, it's equally important to guarantee that individuals can avail themselves of long-term care from certified medical professionals. The recent move to revert to the previous limit of 10 Medicare-funded psychologist sessions is a significant blow to mental health care in Australia. This change will make it even more challenging for people to obtain the necessary assistance, especially for those who are already facing financial difficulties.”
The rising cost of living in Australia is having a significant impact on overall mental health, especially for young people.
"Young people feel anxious about how the rising cost of living is going to impact their ability to achieve major life milestones, like moving out of home or saving for a house,” says Prof. Fels.
“We know financial security is a protective factor for good mental health, and changes to a young person’s financial circumstances can place their mental health under stress. It is also incumbent on governments to take steps to alleviate these pressures, so that young people and their families can afford the things they need to lead happy, healthy lives.”
Donna Stanley, last year’s winner of the Prize’s Indigenous category, emphasises the potential impact of the Voice to Parliament referendum on Indigenous mental health.
"The mental health of Indigenous communities is disproportionately affected by systemic racism, intergenerational trauma, and ongoing social and economic disadvantage. The upcoming Voice to Parliament referendum presents a crucial opportunity to address these issues and improve mental health and wellbeing in these communities. It is important that the debate surrounding the referendum is respectful of the lived experiences of First Nations peoples and must include a range of perspectives so that all Australians can make an informed decision when it comes time to vote," says Ms Stanley, who provides mental health services across the regional Western Plains of NSW.
"It's clear that we need to take a more equitable approach to mental health care in Australia. This means ensuring that people in low-income and regional areas have the same access to care as those in wealthy areas and providing more options for people who are unable to afford private services.”
"The launch of nominations for the Australian Mental Health Prize is a timely reminder of the urgent need to address the mental health challenges in our country. By recognising those who are making a difference in this space, we can raise awareness of the issue and inspire others to take action,” Prof. Brodaty says.
How to nominate
Nominations for the 2023 Australian Mental Health Prize open on May 22 and will close on July 17, 2023. The winners will be announced in late September.
To nominate, answer three questions about the nominee's mental health contributions and impact using the online form. Prize categories include Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, lived experience, professional, and community hero.