Border communities mark winter solstice

Member’s statement

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (09:46): 

This year’s winter solstice was last night, Tuesday, 21 June, a time when people from Albury and surrounding areas gathered at QEII Square in Albury to speak about the grief of losing a loved one and to comfort each other.

The Winter Solstice was created to encourage conversations, to assist in de-stigmatising the issue of suicide and to provide an event where people could come together in a supporting environment. They gather on the darkest night of the year to share stories, to talk about their memories and to remember those they have lost.

Nine Australians die every day by suicide; 75 per cent of those who take their lives are male. More than 65,000 Australians make a suicide attempt every year. These are horrendous statistics.

Many of us have been touched in some way by losing someone to suicide, and it often leaves those left behind feeling a sense of guilt, bewilderment and great sadness. I urge anyone out there today and from this day forward to reach out if you have suicidal ideation. Your pain can be alleviated in other ways. You are worthy, and you can seek the support you require to empower your fragile mind. Let us all continue these important conversations and encourage people to speak up and speak out, for we have lost far too many lives already.

Party supports COVID-19 mental health impact inquiry

I support a fellow MP’s call for an inquiry into COVID-19 impacts on Victorians’ mental and physical health and care

February 9, 2022

Catherine CUMMING (Western Metropolitan) (11:32):

I move:

That this house requires the Legal and Social Issues Committee to inquire into, consider and report, by no later than 1 July 2022, on the effects of COVID-19 on the physical and mental health of Victorians, including but not limited to:

(1) the provision of mental health services;

(2) the number of suicides;

(3) the number and type of presentations at:

(a) hospitals;

(b) general and allied health practitioners;

(c) pathology services;

(d) diagnostic services;

(4) the effects of delays in surgery and diagnostic services, if any, to the Victorian health system and to the health of Victorians;

(5) the health and learning impacts of school closures on children; and

(6) any other matter the committee considers relevant.

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (14:25):

I am pleased to speak on Dr Cumming’s motion today and indicate that Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party will be supporting this referral to the Legal and Social Issues Committee.

We have been very conscious of the need throughout this pandemic to balance the public health response to the coronavirus against the impacts on the mental health and general health of our population. Of course, this is no easy task but something that needs to be a high priority. There have been a number of studies that show just how seriously and widely mental health has been impacted by the pandemic, and constituents in my electorate contact me regularly on these matters.

The Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, conducted monthly by the ABS from March 2020 to June 2021, reported that the groups with the highest levels of psychological distress were Australians aged between 18 and 34, people living in Victoria and women. The University of Melbourne conducted a weekly ‘Taking the Pulse of the Nation’ survey through the Melbourne Institute, where 20 per cent of respondents reported feeling depressed or anxious most or all of the time. Employed parents whose youngest child was aged five to 11 years reported higher levels of mental distress than parents of other age cohorts. This tells a real story of how tough the stay-at-home and remote-learning requirements were on members of the workforce with young children.

The Headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey 2020 showed the proportion of young people feeling the impact of a lack of companionship rose to 54 per cent in 2020. Other studies reported that where initial increases in levels of distress reduced again over time, there are on-going challenges for the levels of distress and wellbeing of our society as people struggle with financial uncertainty, being constantly confronted with pandemic-related media, fear and uncertainty about accessing other health care, uncertainty around more homeschooling et cetera.

Mental health is only one component of all of this but something I am personally very passionate about. We know our health system has faced some real challenges in other areas, including hospital ramping, ambulance response times, elective surgery, GP shortages, workforce furlough, vaccination rollouts and much more. That is all very gloomy, but we have an obligation to consider this information and how we can learn from this for future pandemics—as Dr (Matthew) Bach referred to, this certainly will not be our last—and not just from the negatives. We need to see the positives as well, and I hope that this motion will highlight some of the positive responses that we can build and work on that we have faced and learned from within this pandemic.

(Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party) supports Dr Cumming’s motion, and I look forward to participating in this inquiry if her referral is successful today.

Motion lost: tied vote 18 -18

Image: Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, Monash University 2021 [ Image credit: Respirology ]