Adopt a duck in mental health week

It’s Mental Health Week, aptly coinciding with a self-diagnosed bout of post-viral depression. Those of you who suffer the ‘Black Dog’ will know that a flu or virus can tip you into a depressive cycle. She Who Also Gets It commonly says: “Don’t be depressed – it’s boring.” Fine for her to say if she’s OK.

(Read to the end then come back and watch this 43 second video by Bob)

As my Ma would have said (and maybe yours too), ‘misery loves company’. Statistically-speaking, about 40% of my readers will have suffered from some kind of mental health episode in their lifetime. The other 60% will probably let this FOMM go by (“Why doesn’t he write something nice and fluffy, grumble, grumble, or at least say what he thinks instead of quoting other people?”)

The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) tells us that more than 40% of Australians aged 16-85 years have experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life. One in five (21.4% or 4.2 million people), had a 12-month mental disorder. Anxiety was the most common group of 12-month mental disorders (16.8% or 3.3 million people). Young people were most at risk with 39.6% aged 16-24 years reporting a 12-month mental disorder.

Note: 12-month disorders are categorised as including anxiety, mood, impulse-control and substance use disorders.

The latest national study into mental health and well-being was released in July. Among its findings are that 3.4 million Australians aged 16-85 years (17.5%) saw a health professional for their mental health in 2020-2021. Of these, 57.4% had a 12-month mental disorder, 17.7% had experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life and 24.0% had no lifetime mental disorder. (To quote the quintessential Aussie singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers- ‘If you ain’t worried now, you’re not paying attention..’Ed)

That latter cohort (the 24%) are probably those referred to in this World Health Organisation (WHO) report. The WHO said that in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%.

“The information we have now about the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s mental health is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “This is a wake-up call to all countries to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job of supporting their population’s mental health.”

The WHO’s Mental Health Atlas showed that in 2020, governments worldwide spent on average just over 2% of their health budgets on mental health. Many low-income countries reported having fewer than 1 mental health worker per 100,000 people.

Australia stands out from the crowd in terms of investment. Government spending on mental health-related services in 2019–20 was estimated to be around 7.6% of total government health expenditure.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says $11 billion was spent on mental health-related services in 2019-2020. Of the $11.0 billion, State and Territory governments spent 60.0% ($6.6 billion). The Australian Government’s $3.8 billion contribution covered Medicare-subsidised mental health services and prescriptions.

Australian Government spending on prescriptions equates to about $22 per person. Anti-psychotics (48.1%) and antidepressants (32.5%) accounted for the majority of mental health-related subsidised prescriptions.

That may well be, but I pay something close to full price for mine, mainly because my doctor told me not to accept the generic version. On the other hand, I paid $6.90 for the antiviral meds prescribed when I tested positive to Covid-19. The full price on the packet was $1,130, Now you see why Australia is so lucky to have Medicare.

Ah Covid, that was almost a month ago. I still have a cough and after walking the dog on the river circuit, I have to take some Ventolin and lie down. Multiple research reports have emerged which discuss the serious implications of ‘long Covid’ and lingering symptoms such as lung problems, fatigue and ‘brain fog’. Clearly there is much work yet to be done to establish the long-term risks of having had Covid-19.

And yet the collective Australian government response to Covid seems to be aligned to President Joe Biden’s recent claim that the pandemic is ‘over’. We shall find out after today, which is when Australian State and Territory governments agreed we should no longer be required to quarantine after testing positive. My view of it is simplistic. As of today, 10.3 million Australians have had Covid and 15,399 died with Covid – more than people killed on the roads in 2020.

Perhaps it was coincidence that the US health administration also eased its quarantine recommendations. The Center (US spelling) for Disease Control and Prevention said in August it was no longer recommending that adults and children quarantine at home after having been exposed to Covid-19. The CDC instead recommends those exposed wear a mask for 10 days and take a test on day five. The CDC is, however, saying that Covid is ‘here to stay’, recommending that people who have tested positive to the virus isolate for five days.

Greta Massetti, chief of the CDC’s Field Epidemiology and Prevention Branch, said the changes reflected data indicating 95% of the population has some protection, either from infection or vaccination.

On September 29, Australia’s National cabinet unanimously agreed to scrap the mandatory Covid isolation requirement, with exemptions for those working in high-risk settings such as health or aged care.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said (in the same breath) that disaster payments for workers diagnosed with Covid would end, with the same exemptions for high-risk workplaces.

As The Guardian reported, all State Premiers and Chief Ministers agreed to the change, claiming it was “not sustainable” for governments to keep paying workers to stay home.

Predictably, the Australian Business Council and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry welcomed the decision.

I was taken by surprise, not expecting a Labor Government to make what is clearly an economic decision, rather than support measures that lower the risk of the virus spreading in the community.

Chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly cautioned that quarantine measures may be re-introduced if pandemic conditions such as transmission rates dramatically changed. (Something reminds me about stable doors and horses bolting..Ed)

“We wanted to make sure that we have measures which are proportionate and that are targeted at the most vulnerable,” Mr Albanese said after the meeting. “We want to continue to promote vaccinations as being absolutely critical, including people getting booster shots.

“We want a policy that promotes resilience and capacity-building and reduces a reliance on government intervention.”

(Ed: Capacity building is ‘the improvement in an individual’s or organization’s facility to produce, perform or deploy’.

Mr Albanese was asked whether casual workers would now be forced to work while sick. His response was that the government could not keep paying for such financial supports, comparing the strategy to influenza.

“The flu has existed, and health issues have existed, for a long period of time, and the government hasn’t always stepped in to pay people’s wages while people have health concerns,” the Prime Minister said at a press conference.

While the advice here and in the US is (still) to wear a mask for 10 days after contracting or being exposed to Covid, the mask mandate for public transport was removed in all Australian jurisdictions last month. Apart from medical centres, hospitals and aged care centres, mask-wearing has become optional.

I wore mine while filming the short duck video (above). Avian flu – you can’t be too careful.

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