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Prevention key to addressing mental health, substance use issues

21 September 2021

The next step in reforming Australia's mental health system

Research carried out through a partnership between the Matilda Centre, Black Dog Institute and Everymind finds a nationally coordinated and long-term approach is required for prevention research and implementation.

We need to invest in the prevention of mental health and substance use difficulties to combat their significant human and economic costs, according to new research.

The research was carried out by the Prevention Hub and the Prevention and Early Intervention in Mental Illness and Substance Use (PREMISE) Centre of Research Excellence through a partnership between the Black Dog Institute, Everymind and the Matilda Centre at the University of Sydney.

For the research, 80 delegates at the Leaders in Prevention Summit were asked what their priorities were for prevention research and its application.

The responses consistently emphasised the importance of collaboration and sustained efforts.

Delegates indicated a collaborative and coordinated effort will be required to achieve the ultimate goal of preventing mental health and substance use difficulties.

They also highlighted the need for a long-term perspective and commitment to ensure the success and sustainability of prevention efforts.

“The recent Australian Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Mental Health found that the social and emotional costs of mental illness and suicide are likely to be as high as $200-220 billion each year,” said Professor Maree Teesson AC, Director at the Matilda Centre.

“Significant investment in a nationally coordinated approach to prevention research is a critical next step in reforming the Australian mental health system.”

Deputy director at the Black Dog Institute Professor Sam Harvey said the sector was urging governments, employers and donors to invest in the prevention of mental health and substance use issues.

“This will not only lead to new discoveries and better program delivery but will also improve lives and reduce future costs,” he said.

Other common themes emerged from the research, including the need to:

  • better understand and target risk and protective factors;
  • strengthen links between research areas by taking a holistic approach;
  • include diverse stakeholders and embed co-design, especially with people with lived experience and their families, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and young people;
  • evaluate and refine prevention programs in the real world; and
  • improve data collection and data management.

Everymind director, Dr Jaelea Skehan said: “The Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Mental Health showed the return on investment for prevention-focused approaches.

“There is an imperative to bring together research and practice so that people can live well and be supported in the communities where they live, work and learn.

"We have great research, policy and program expertise here in Australia that can be harnessed now. We need to scale what we know works.”

The paper summarising the findings, "Prevention of mental and substance use disorders: Shaping priorities for research and implementation", has been published in the peer-reviewed journal, Mental Health & Prevention.

Vivienne Reiner

Media and Public Relations Adviser | Health
"The social and emotional costs of mental illness and suicide are likely to be as high as $220 billion each year."
Professor Maree Teesson

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