Mental illness and obesity - holding back our wellbeing

10 September 2013

A recent report shows that, when measured in dollars, Australia's collective wellbeing increased by some $250 billion a year in the last three years. However, two chronic health problems - mental illness and obesity - are damaging the wellbeing of our people, particularly in rural and remote areas.

Improving mental health services and combating obesity should therefore be near the top of the health priorities for the Abbott Government. And the people of rural and remote areas will hope the government will act on the special issues in country areas in relation to these conditions.

Despite the challenges of country life, self-reported satisfaction tends to be higher in rural and remote areas than in the major cities and the prevalence of mental illness there is generally no greater. However, those in rural areas have less specialised support and have to deal with greater visibility and stigma related to mental illness. They have poorer access to doctors and very much less local access to psychiatrists and psychologists.

Tragically, rates of completed suicide in rural and remote areas are consistently higher - up to double - those in major cities.

In 2010-11 the rates of overweight or obesity among adults increased by remoteness. The rate was a startling 61.6 per cent in major cities, but 66.8 per cent in inner regional areas, 68.4 per cent in outer regional areas and 72.8 per cent in remote areas. Around one-quarter of Australian children aged 5-17 years are overweight or obese.

The report, Herald/Age Lateral Economics Index of Australia’s Wellbeing (fourth quarter 2012), puts a dollar figure on wellbeing using six broad components - income, know-how, environmental change, inequality, health and job satisfaction.

The report shows an annual increase over the past three years of about 20 per cent, compared with GDP growth of 9 per cent. The major contribution to the 20 per cent improvement in collective wellbeing came from an expansion in the value of collective know-how, with a major increase in adult formal qualifications. This bodes well for economic growth and productivity; but mental illness and obesity are pulling down both wellbeing and productivity.

Media Enquiries: 

Lesley Barclay - Chair: 0412 282 801
Gordon Gregory - Executive Director: 02 6285 4660

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