Group of people at desks arranged around conference room in discussion

BHP Foundation supports COVID-19 Mental Health Think Tank

13 August 2020
Think Tank to develop national mental health policy
COVID-19 Mental Health Response Independent Think Tank brings together a broad range of expertise to pursue evidence-based mental health policy.

The BHP Foundation is enabling the establishment of Australia’s first mental health think tank, a University of Sydney led initiative to stimulate bold thinking around a national response to the mental health impacts of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 Mental Health Response Independent Think Tank will explore new directions and models around mental health. The initiative will be driven by the University’s Matilda Centre which brings together world-leading researchers, clinicians, people with lived experience and community. They share skills, data and new technologies and trial innovative programs to prevent and treat mental and substance use disorders.

Director of the Matilda Centre Professor Maree Teesson AC, who will chair the Think Tank, says it will share this strength of a ‘whole system’ approach when addressing the pervasive effects of the pandemic that may detrimentally affect mental health into the future.

“The relationship between COVID-19 and mental health is very complex and cannot be solved with one strategy. So a think tank, where many voices and ideas can be represented will be a critical addition. It will develop infrastructure to provide sound research and advice to generate an evidence base that informs and influences the development of national policy.”

“The impacts of COVID-19 on unemployment, social dislocation and mental health highlight the urgent need for the mental health sector and governments to put in place an ongoing national response to the pandemic,” she said.

For James Ensor, Chief Executive of the BHP Foundation, it’s about supporting long-term community resilience and recovery.

“The sign of a civilised society is how we treat our most vulnerable,” says James. “With the full and lasting impact of this global pandemic still to be realised, we have to invest in programs that will deliver innovative solutions now and in the future.”

“This means supporting the experts to solve the big problems and helping build community resilience through the very important work being done on the ground in our local communities,” James said.

Among issues the COVID-19 Mental Health Response Independent Think Tank would address are:

  • the collection of high-quality data on the mental health effects of COVID-19 across the population and vulnerable groups
  • the capacity of Australian systems to respond to the medium-and longer-term mental health consequences of the pandemic and future pandemics or critical incidents
  • the capacity required to provide a national digital health response to anticipated mental health consequences. 
The relationship between COVID-19 and mental health is very complex and cannot be solved with one strategy. So a think tank, where many voices and ideas can be represented will be a critical addition.
Professor Maree Teesson
Professor Maree Teesson arms crossed at Uni of Sydney campus

Professor Maree Teesson, Director of the Matilda Centre

The Think Tank will work closely with the Sydney Policy Lab at the University of Sydney, which exists to build new relationships between people from different backgrounds across academia, business, government and the broader community.

“I am grateful and excited that the COVID-19 Mental Health Response Independent Think Tank brings together an invaluable range and depth of expertise across the mental health landscape without which the work we are proposing would be impossible,” Professor Teesson said.

“It will bring together national mental health leaders, experts in disaster response, those with lived experience, policy development and industry representatives, including digital technology experts.”

Other universities involved in the establishment of the Think Tank include the Australian National University, University of Melbourne, University of Newcastle, University of New South Wales and University of Queensland.

Key experts involved at this initial stage are:

  • Professor Maree Teesson AC, Director of the Matilda Centre, University of Sydney
  • Professor Marc Stears, Director Sydney Policy Lab, University of Sydney
  • Professor Ian Hickie AM: Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney
  • Lucy Brogden AM: Chair, National Mental Health Commissioner
  • Professor Pat McGorry: Executive Director of Orygen, Professor of Youth Mental Health at the University of Melbourne
  • Professor Helen Christensen AO, Black Dog Institute Director and Chief Scientist and Professor of Mental Health at UNSW
  • Professor Phil Batterham, Centre for Mental Health Research, Australian National University
  • Professor Frances Kay Lambkin, Acting Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation, University of Newcastle
  • Professor John McGrath, Director of the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research and conjoint Professor at the Queensland Brain Institute
  • Professor Harvey Whiteford, University of Queensland
  • Associate Professor Allison Callear, Australian National University

The BHP Foundation is contributing $1.086m to support the Think Tank’s establishment.

Find out more about the BHP Foundation’s support for programs in Australia.   

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