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Fostering Compassionate Communities for Mental Health: Nominations Open for the 2024 Australian Mental Health Prize

As nominations open for the Australian Mental Health Prize, experts are uniting to underscore the critical need to foster compassionate communities. Recent tragic events have heightened emotions across Australia, particularly fear, despair and sadness.

In these difficult times it is even more important to nurture compassion and open dialogue, to better address the multifaceted challenges surrounding mental health across our nation.

“As the community navigates these challenges, it is crucial to acknowledge the impact on the loved ones of victims and to recognise the tireless efforts of first responders and healthcare teams.

Together, we must continue to uphold one another during these trying times,” says Lucinda Brogden AM, Co-chair of the Australian Mental Health Prize Advisory Committee. “Tragic events within our communities often serve as a stark reminder of the fragility of mental health and the profound impact it has on individuals and society as a whole.”

Professor Valsamma Eapen, an expert in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry from UNSW Medicine and Health, says our compassion should also be front of mind in our age-appropriate conversations with our children as well.  “Speak to children about tragic events in a simple, reassuring manner.

Let them know it’s okay to feel sad or confused. Be ready to answer questions calmly, acknowledging that they might hear about it from friends. Reassure them you’re there to talk and support them. It is important to look out for any change in behaviours such as reluctance to go out, being withdrawn, having sleep issues or acting out.”

Professor Allan Fels AO, Co-chair of the Prize, has family lived experience of complex and enduring mental health. He says that we must engage in responsible conversations that challenge stigma and misinformation.

“Recent events have heightened concerns, especially among those with mental health issues. Notably, 45% of Australians will face mental health challenges in their lifetime. We must handle discussions about mental health carefully, ensuring they are responsible, inclusive, and free from harmful stereotypes.

Recognising that those with mental health issues are often victims, not perpetrators, let’s avoid assumptions and stigmatising individuals with severe mental illness and their support networks.”

Professor Kimberlie Dean, Chair of Forensic Psychiatry at UNSW Sydney and member of the Prize’s Advisory Committee, underscores the intricate nature of mental health challenges.

“In grappling with the complexities of mental health, we must acknowledge the absence of simple solutions. Communities are instrumental in fostering environments of understanding, support, and destigmatisation. Yet, we must also confront the reality of service gaps and limitations.

Mental health funding remains disproportionately low relative to the burden of disease, necessitating increased investment and reform in the mental health system.”

“It’s equally vital to acknowledge that mental health struggles often intertwine with broader societal issues such as substance abuse, trauma, and systemic discrimination. The aftermath of COVID-19 has exacerbated these challenges, intensifying strain on an already burdened workforce.

This underscores the urgent need for sustainable solutions. Marginalised individuals bear a disproportionate burden, often lacking access to support services and resorting to the justice system as a last resort.”