3-year priority 2013–16: Build stronger approaches to resilience, focusing on young people.

Long before illness begins, we need to build the right foundations for mental wellbeing – in our homes, communities, schools and workplaces.

One of the keys to mental wellbeing is building resilience: the ability to maintain wellbeing despite adversity. It’s been shown that resilience helps people with a mental illness to cope better and for those without a mental illness to flourish.

We develop resilience through our interaction with various individual and environmental factors. Where we live, work, learn, play and build relationships can affect our mental wellbeing. For those who are vulnerable, these factors may have a powerful impact.

Preventing violence against women in Victoria

Violence against women causes more than physical harm; it can cause deep psychological harm and suffering that can have a profound influence on wellbeing. Children who are exposed to such violence can also experience extreme harm that can affect their wellbeing and development (cognitive, social, emotional) for decades to come.

Violence against women and their children costs Australia $21.6 billion each year, with governments carrying more than a third of the cost burden, as shown in the 2015 report A high price to pay: the economic case for preventing violence against women (prepared by PriceWaterhouse Coopers with support from Our Watch and VicHealth).

In 2015, Our Watch, VicHealth and Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety launched Change the story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia. This important document brings together the latest international evidence on what drives violence against women, and what works to prevent it. It shows that to change the story that ends in violence against women, we must begin with gender equality and respect in all areas of life.

In June 2015, VicHealth made a submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence. Our submission drew on our years of expertise (in both research and program best practice), working with our partners to prevent violence against women and highlighting the links between violence against women and gender inequality.

In July 2015, we hosted a two-day conference with leading experts from across Australia to share insights and expertise ahead of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Generating Equality and Respect (GEAR)

The Generating Equality and Respect program saturated a local government area with strategies and projects on gender equality and preventing violence against women.

The program reached over 1100 employees, 15,000 community members, 30 local schools and youth agencies, 50 male employees (who became anti-violence ambassadors), and 58 first-time parents (who were supported to maintain equal and respectful relationships in the transition to parenthood).

The program aimed to build communities and cultures that promote gender equality. It provided a number of tools and resources that can be used by local governments, workplaces and organisations across Australia and internationally.

Victorian Workplace Mental Wellbeing Collaboration with SuperFriend and WorkSafe

During 2015–16, we continued our work with SuperFriend and WorkSafe Victoria to help workplaces create positive and supportive cultures and environments so workers would be more engaged, positive and effective at work.

Victorian workers spend around one-third of their time in the workplace. The work environment can provide a positive sense of connection with others, as well as build self-esteem and provide recognition and rewards for individual workers and teams. Developing a positive leadership style, designing jobs for mental wellbeing, communicating effectively, recruiting and selecting the right people, balancing work-life demands, and supporting and developing employees are all important components of workplace mental wellbeing.

A healthy workplace promotes the physical, mental, economic and social wellbeing of its employees and, in turn, the health of their families and communities.

Creating healthy workplaces

Our Creating Healthy Workplaces program (2012–2015) highlighted the important role workplaces have in promoting good health and wellbeing and preventing chronic disease. The program focused on the best ways to tackle alcohol-related harm, prolonged sitting, stress, and violence against women.

Young Australians’ attitudes towards violence against women

As part of our 2013 National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey, nearly 2000 Australians aged 16 to 24 expressed their views on violence against women, and gender equality. Young Australians’ attitudes to violence against women: Findings from the 2013 National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey for respondents 16–24 years was released in 2015, and provides a snapshot of young people’s community attitudes to violence and the need for future prevention activity.

Innovation Challenge: Arts

In 2015, VicHealth announced the winners of the inaugural VicHealth Innovation Challenge: Arts. Two dynamic projects were chosen from more than 40 submissions: Dance Break – No Lights, No Lycra and The Cloud – Pop Up Playground. Both use technology to promote physical and mental wellbeing.

White Night Melbourne

For the third year in a row, VicHealth has promoted physical activity and social connection through the arts at White Night Melbourne. Celebrating Victoria’s vibrant performance culture with Circus Circus, the VicHealth Active Arts stage gave participants of all ages and abilities plenty of opportunities to try out new activities and have fun through art.

Performances ranged from aerial stunts, acrobatics and trapeze artistry to hula hooping, juggling and comedy with acts such as Circus Oz, Performing Older Women’s Circus, Cirque Africa and more. It was also a great opportunity to socially connect with others.

Mental wellbeing strategy 2015–2019

 In 2015, one in four Victorians aged 16 to 25 reported feelings of depression. One in four indicated that they had limited access to social support in a time of need. One in eight reported a very high intensity of loneliness.

These results, gathered from a survey of 1000 young Victorians commissioned by VicHealth, should send a shiver down the state’s collective spine. As is well established by now, youth is a critical period for social and emotional development, as young lives are characterised by a series of important transitions and significant changes, such as finishing school, leaving home, starting university, entering the workforce, and a raft of other crucial life experiences.

Central to VicHealth’s Mental Wellbeing Strategy 2015–2019 is to ensure that the state’s young people are equipped with skills in the areas of social connection and resilience. Research shows that about 75 per cent of all serious mental illness begins before the age of 25, and that in 2009, almost one in four young Australians aged 12 to 25 had a diagnosed mental illness1. This area is one of the country’s top three leading causes of disease burden, while in Victoria, mental illness is the largest contributor to the disability burden.

VicHealth’s strategy aims to ensure that 200,000 young Victorians are more resilient and connected by 2023. In an era of significant technological and economic change, it is vital to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens aren’t left behind or disconnected.

“Young people’s state of mind and mental wellbeing are increasingly important in economic, social and personal terms, and the risks of disengagement and isolation are apparent,” said Dr Stefan Hajkowicz, CSIRO's senior principal scientist in strategy and foresight. 

“New stressors are emerging which, as a society, we need to understand and manage, to ensure young people are able to maintain positive social connections and find positive life pathways that contribute to the community.”

In addition to surveying 1000 16–25 year olds to gauge their mental wellbeing, VicHealth commissioned a CSIRO report, Bright Futures: Megatrends impacting the mental wellbeing of young Victorians over the coming 20 years, which pinpointed five trends that will provide challenges and opportunities for the next generation.

These include rising skills and education levels in emerging economies, the changing nature of work, increasing exposure to wide-ranging online content, and improved understanding of the causes of mental illness. VicHealth hopes that surveys and reports such as these will lead to a range of programs and policies that will foster resilience among young people and provide support – not only from older Victorians, but from their youthful peer group, too.

Five megatrends that will affect the mental wellbeing of Australia's young people

  • The rising bar: Rising skills and education levels in emerging economies are leading to a more competitive global jobs market
  • Global reach: Globalisation and digital technology are changing the way workplaces and individuals operate. The future will see a new breed of portfolio workers who have no fixed abode and sell their skills and knowledge to multiple employers.
  • Life's richer tapestry: A more diverse culture, society and consumer market where identification of mainstream is increasingly difficult.
  • Overexposure online: increasing exposure to wide-ranging online content, privacy breaches and virtual relationships. Young people will have virtual resumes which are beyond their control to edit as there will be an increase in the amount of discoverable personal information.
  • Out of the shadows: improved and widespread understanding of the causes of mental illness and building blocks for mental wellbeing, coupled with advances in medical technology and a change in service delivery models will help some.

1. These stats all taken from the strategy report: www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/search/mental-wellbeing-strategy

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