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25 May 2020

masonicshutterstock_1691055178.jpgIn one of the most challenging years this century, Australians have confronted spiralling drought, catastrophic bushfires and the personal and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. And the slow road back to economic stability and the normalisation of work and life is likely to contribute to poor mental health.

While current circumstances highlight the issues, the fact is, the demand for mental health services has been on the rise in Australia.

Recognising the huge need for improved access to mental health support, especially for isolated communities, Masonic Charities has made a $650,000 commitment to support a research partnership  between the University of South Australia and the University of Adelaide, to develop an interactive, online wellbeing tool to help people with practical, evidence-based strategies to manage stress, adapt to change and strengthen their mental health and wellbeing.

The new online tool, builds on the successful www.ifarmwell.com.au initiative developed by Clinical Psychologist and UniSA Research Fellow, Department of Rural Health, Dr Kate Gunn with Professor Deborah Turnbull from the Freemasons Centre for Male Health and Well-being at the University of Adelaide, and is aimed at reaching out to people early, to strengthen coping mechanisms.

“Our work has shown that there is a real need for a tool that GPs and other health professionals are confident to refer to their patients when the first signs of depression and stress appear,” Dr Gunn says.

“We know that for many people it is difficult to raise the idea that you may not be coping well and need some help, so we want to develop a practical self-help tool that avoids that stigma and pathologising language and helps to give them hope and build resilience.

“The Masonic Charities initiative will help us to reach out to people who experience delays in being able to access counselling.”

The economic cost of mental illness in Australia is $500 million per day, which includes the direct cost of mental health services and indirect costs, such as lost productivity, reduced health and life expectancy.

Only one third of people experiencing mental disorders will access traditional, face-to-face mental health services. 

“Research shows that when people do seek help, 71 per cent will consult their GP in the first instance, but with waiting lists of two to six months for referred appointments with a psychologist, there is a real need for strategies to support self-care,” according to Dr Gunn.

“The goal of this project is to improve every Australian’s access to timely, free, psychological support and self-help strategies, at an early stage to build resilience against developing more serious mental health problems.

“In partnership with GPs, consumers and key stakeholders, we hope to reduce the risk of unnecessary suffering from what is treatable distress.”

Dr Neil Jensen, Masonic Charities Director, Grand Master of Freemasons SA/NT and General Practitioner, says the online initiative will ensure time-pressured GPs are better equipped to help their patients tackle mental health issues and will go some way to bridging the gaps between Australians accessing primary care and mental health services.

“The tragic truth is that suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 15-44 years and the fourth leading cause of death in those aged 45-64,” Dr Jensen says.  

“A major priority for Masonic Charities is to instil hope and provide support for community health and wellbeing, so we are delighted to be partnering with Dr Gunn, Professor Turnbull and their team to help change those statistics and reduce the rate of suicide.”

The new web-based support will personalise content to make it more relevant to users and it will be developed with consumer and stakeholder input.

UniSA Deputy Vice Chancellor Research and Enterprise, Prof Marnie Hughes-Warrington says the partnership with Masonic Charities to develop the new online mental health tool is a perfect example of research and community collaboration to build stronger societies.

“This project delivers on a shared goal to make a tangible difference in our world,” Prof Hughes-Warrington says.

“Having identified a need for a tailored resource that can effectively engage Australians facing a diverse range of stressors, life circumstances and mental health issues, we will be working together to deliver a solution.

“Masonic Charities support for the project is an outstanding example of how the right support for the right initiative can change lives for the better.” 

Freemasons SA & NT will host a cheque handover event at its headquarters tomorrow May 26 from 2.30 – 3.30pm at 254 North Terrace, Adelaide (with arrangements for social distancing).

This is a joint project with UniSA and the Freemasons Centre for Male Health and Well-being at the University of Adelaide with support from Masonic Charities. 

Media contacts:

UniSA Michèle Nardelli phone: 0418 823 673 or +61 8 8302 0966 email: michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au

Masonic Charities Sheralyn Holmes, Executive Officer phone: 0439 883 817

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