Mental Health Matters Forum 2019
August 20, 2019
Private Member's Statement
Mr ANOULACK CHANTHIVONG (Macquarie Fields) (18:09): It was Winston Churchill who coined the term "black dog" to describe his own depression. He popularised the phrase, "I've got a black dog on my back", referring to how depression would weigh him down and was never far away.
In a nod to that famous origin, the black dog is also symbolically used as the logo for one of Australia's leading mental health organisations, the Black Dog Institute. The logo features a victory sign that casts the shadow of a black dog and provides a metaphor for a disorder that is lurking in the background constantly. It acknowledges that depression can indeed shadow the sufferer even when their mood is upbeat and victorious.
The logo carries a subtle message of hope to avoid any suggestion that you can simply pull yourself out of it. The concept walks the essential fine line by neither trivialising the black dog nor turning it into a monster. It also provides a talking point and a new way to help destigmatise a mental illness that many people experience. In fact, one in 20 Australians is affected by depression each year. The World Health Organization estimates that depression will be the number one health concern by 2030.
It was with this in mind that I hosted my latest Mental Health Matters forum in July entitled Depression: Living With The Black Dog. A staggering 170 people braved a cold evening to hear from a range of informative speakers, including one brave man, Mr Wayne Wigham, who shared his own lived experience with depression.
The evening was also an opportunity to connect with a range of local health service providers, ask questions and share information. The success of the evening followed on from my previous forums on young people and anxiety in 2017, and body image and eating disorders in 2018.
I was proud to facilitate my latest forum in partnership with local mental health advocate Cheryl Paradella of Beautiful Minds, the Black Dog Institute, headspace Campbelltown and South Western Sydney Primary Health Network. Increasing our conversations about mental health can help break down stigma, raise greater awareness and inspire action. The time to act is now: Early intervention and access to treatment are essential to helping people with a mental illness.
We have certainly made progress when it comes to talking about mental health, but our journey continues to ensure that people in our community receive the level of care they deserve. Conversations about mental health should be as normal and everyday as conversations about physical health. We do not ever shy away from talking about diabetes, asthma or cancer, nor should we shy away from speaking about our mental health because it affects us all.
Depressive disorders often start at a young age. They reduce people's functioning and are often recurring. For those reasons, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide in terms of total years lost due to disability. Depression results from a complex interaction of social, psychological and biological factors, and can affect anyone from young people to seniors. It can cause the affected person to suffer greatly and function poorly at work, at school and in the family.
Signs and symptoms of depression include depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyable activities, decreased energy, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep and/or appetite, poor concentration and thoughts of suicide. Moreover, depression often comes with symptoms of anxiety.
Depression is treatable with psychological therapies or antidepressant medication, or a combination of these. In severe cases, biological treatments like electroconvulsive therapies can also be effective. A range of self-care strategies such as exercise, a healthy diet, relaxation techniques, good sleep hygiene and positive social connections have proven to assist people with depression.
Importantly, as a society we must continue the conversation on mental health because mental health matters. A conversation is a simple act, but it can also be powerful enough to help save a life. Talking with others about issues that affect us, we realise that we are not alone, that our individual struggles are shared by many and that there are people who care and, importantly, that there are people who can help. Delivering support services, fostering empathy and providing programs that encourage connections with the community are all ways to help people with mental illness to live their full potential.
We must act urgently. More Australian teenagers are in severe psychological distress than five years ago. Every day at least six Australians die from suicide and a further 30 people will attempt to take their own life.
Words are easy to speak; actions, however, speak volumes. I see the real and urgent need for action every single day in my electorate.
That is why I am committed to raising awareness of mental health, it is why I will continue to host my Mental Health Matters forums and it is why I will do all I can to continue the important conversation on mental health—because mental health matters. It matters to me and it matters to us all.