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Healthy body, healthy mind: Australia’s first Mental Health Tracker

Millions of Australians living with common health issues such as asthma, hypertension, arthritis, cancer and diabetes are at much greater risk of mental health conditions.

A new report, Australia’s Mental and Physical Health Tracker from the Australian Health Policy Collaboration (AHPC) at Victoria University, is the first Australian study to quantify the risks of physical health conditions contributing to a wide range of mental health conditions including anxiety and depression.

Australia’s Mental and Physical Health Tracker, released in Melbourne today, is the latest report card in the Australia’s Health Tracker series, and reveals strong links between chronic physical ill health and mental ill health.

Professor Allan Fels AO (AHPC Advisory Board member) said that the poor physical health and wellbeing of those with mental illness, and vice versa, was the “major weak point” of Australia’s generally good health system.

“With more than four million Australians living with a mental health conditions, we need to do much more to prevent diseases like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and asthma compounding the effects of mental health," said Professor Fels.

“The numbers are staggering. Around 2.5 million people have both a mental and physical health condition, and the data shows that with either a physical or mental health condition, you are much more likely to also have the other,” said Rosemary Calder AM, Director, Australian Health Policy Collaboration.

Some revealing statistics from the report show:

  • 1.075 million Australians are living with a mental health condition and a circulatory disease such as heart failure or hypertension – Australia’s biggest killer.
  • 321,400 Australians are living with diabetes and a mental health condition.
  • Almost 960,000 Australians have arthritis and a mental health condition.

“We know there is strong evidence about the negative impact of mental health problems for people who already have chronic physical conditions, and equally strong evidence that having a mental health problem increases the risk of every single major chronic disease.” – Prof Allan Fels AO.

Gender Agenda: The report also highlights the large gender variations for example:

  • Males with mental health conditions are 49% more likely to report having asthma, females 70.3% more likely.
  • Males with mental health conditions are 82% more likely to report having cancer; and females 20% more likely.
  • Females are 23% more likely to have a co-existing physical and mental health condition than males.

“The data clearly indicates significant differences for females and males in both risk factors and with correlated chronic health conditions. Our latest report highlights that gender matters in policy and in practice.” – Professor Calder AM.

Full access to the media pack (graphics, report and background paper) available here.

Case study: Rosemary Ainley (48) is a member/co-organiser of Young Women’s Arthritis Support group and has been living with rheumatoid arthritis for more than a decade. The group meet to discuss pain management and talk about the challenges young women with arthritis are facing. Rosemary also has a number of other health conditions including ankylosing spondylitis (inflammatory arthritis), type 2 diabetes and fibromyalgia, and can talk about life with chronic health conditions and the impact they have on her mental health.

Professor Allan Fels AO is the former chair of the National Mental Health Commission and is an Advisory Board member of the Australian Health Policy Collaboration at Victoria University.

Professor Rosemary Calder AM is the Director, Australian Health Policy Collaboration at Victoria University.

Rosemary Calder is a respected health and social policy expert.  She has held positions as a senior executive in health policy and administration in both State and Commonwealth Departments of Health and was head of the Office for the Status of Women in the Commonwealth Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet from 2000 to 2003.  Rosemary has also served as Chief of Staff to a Victorian Minister for Health. 

To arrange an interview with Professor Allan Fels, Professor Rosemary Calder and Rosemary Ainley, contact: Frances Atkinson, External Media, 03 9919 4061, 0435 960 793, frances.atkinson@vu.edu.au

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