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A letter to our Pollies
Intermission from Meet the R4R Runners
Dear (Canberra Pollies),
I hope you're well and that life is good.
I want to preface this email by saying that I know tone can get lost in written format and that whilst the message is certainly serious, it is not a complaint, nor is it meant to allocate blame.
I am also aware that there may be some misunderstandings on my side and some potential mistakes in my rationale outlined below, but I believe that the margins for error are large enough to continue regardless of that probability.
Lastly, I would also like to state unequivocally that I'm a proud Australian, a proud Canberran, and that I’m thankful for your efforts in supporting our country, our territory, and our community.
My name is Matthew Breen and I am the founder of Running for Resilience. If you are unaware, Running for Resilience is a social movement designed to improve our community’s mental health landscape by saving one life from suicide, as many times as possible.
The growth and success of Running for Resilience has been immensely humbling and in my opinion, epitomises all that is great about our local community and it’s people. From the shared understanding that despite life’s struggles, positivity can and should triumph, to the empathy shown towards people with unfamiliar struggles, and to the willingness to act with our efforts as well as our words.
I also feel optimistic about the progress our society is making with regards to mental health. From a broad perspective and within the context of the long-term, the collective progress that we’ve seen in mental health throughout Australia has been heartening. According to statistics obtained from the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, from 1907 to 2006, we have seen a reduction in the suicide rate per 100,000 people from 16.9 to 10.2.
In contrast to this progress however, between 2006 and 2020, we saw this figure increase to 12.1 deaths by suicide per 100,000 people. The increase in suicide figures is not only a tragic and permanent demise for its victims and a lingering sadness for friends and family, it is starving our communities of contribution, our industries of innovation, and our economies of added effectiveness, it is also a symptom of a yet to be definitively diagnosed root cause.
It is clear that our community’s are seeing an increase in demand for mental health services that is disproportionate to the availability of said services with the average wait time to see a psychologist increasing from 26 days in 2019 to as many as 60 days currently. In support of this increased demand, according to a poll conducted by the Age & Herald Sun, of 1002 people interviewed, 82% said that they had experienced mental health issues in the past two years. Additionally, 25% of respondents aged 16-25 had thought about suicide in the past two years.
In an attempt to address this growing need, it was reported that Canberra was set to receive $38 million in additional funding for mental health and suicide prevention services and whilst this has been trumpeted as a ‘landmark mental health deal’, I don’t believe it is significant enough. It’s here that I want to state that R4R doesn’t accept donations and that this comment is with regards to the perceived level of importance that the level funding indicates.
With respects to Canberra’s 12.4 suicides per 100,000 in 2019 and in combination with The Kinchin and Doran study that estimated the “average cost of a suicide resulting in fatality to be $1.69M per incident of fatality and $2.25M per incident resulting in full incapacity”, the total economic cost of lives lost and impacted is approximately $90-120M per annum in Canberra. If the historical spend remains the same and a further $38M is spent, it brings the annual total spend on mental health and suicide to approximately $140-150M, which is marginally above the cost of suicide alone.
If we were to consider the $60B total cost of mental health to the Australian economy, adjust it for the Canberran population and subtract the estimated cost of suicide in Canberra, we get a total cost of $929M associated with mental health, which is a $779M deficit on proposed spending. In my mind, this means that despite all the good work being done in the mental health space, we are either underperforming on our projects, under-allocating funds, or a combination of both.
It’s here that I want to re-iterate the tone of this email. I am grateful to live in Canberra where a focus on mental health can be at the forefront of our concerns. I am also grateful for the growing understanding of why mental health is important and how this has been reflected in Government spending over time. I understand there are nuances, complexities, multi-tiered consequences, and variabilities when it comes to Government funding and Government projects, but in channelling Dennis Denuto’s ‘vibe’ analysis and the figures above, the opportunity cost of not addressing our societies mental health issues properly are too great to ignore.
The proposed solution? I certainly have my biases towards the power of communities, but I’m certainly not naïve enough to think it’s a simple fix. The purpose of writing this letter is to prompt thought, shine a light on what is, in my opinion, an opportunity to improve the lives of Canberrans, and ultimately, to hopefully be part of the journey towards a suicide free society.
Thank you for reading.