Australian Government Begins Mental Health Study to Understand the Effects of Bushfires and COVID-19

mental health study

On February 10, the Australian Government launched the first phase of its mental health study — the first one of its kind since 2007. Timely, considering how we’ve all been affected by the combination of the 2019-20 bushfires and the ongoing pandemic. Helpful, considering 45% of Australians will experience a mental disorder sometime in their life; anxiety, depression and substance abuse being the most common.

The study, costing $89.5 million, aims to provide an in-depth understanding of the mental health challenges that Australians are facing, according to a press release released by Health Minister Greg Hunt. Labelled the ‘National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing’, it will “provide unrivalled depth to our understanding of these mental health challenges and conditions,” and will specifically look at the mental health and wellbeing repercussions of the bushfires and COVID-19.

Among this, it will capture new information on “self-harm, eating disorders and services used by people at risk of suicide”. It aims to help the government “better understand how Australians manage their mental health”, as well as how we “access support.” The study will play a vital role in the planning and delivery of better local services, both now and in the future, according to the release.

Part of a larger, multi-year study, the ‘Intergenerational Health and Mental Health Study’, 17,000 Australians, between the ages of 16 and 85, will be interviewed. First results are expected by the end of the year.

In total, the study will look at 60,000 Australians and run up until 2023 — the next element of it will begin from 2022, following the next Australian Census. The broader study will also address general health, diet, physical activity and biomedical health.

National Mental Health Commission chief executive Christine Morgan, speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, said there was a silver lining to the pandemic being that “[2020] was the year when Australians were prepared to realise their mental health was as integral to them as their physical health.” Continuing, she said. “We felt comfortable talking about it, saying ‘yes I do feel distressed, I really feel blue’.”

We’ll have to wait and see if the outcome of this study means that the government will start considering psychedelics as a serious option for treating mental health.

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