Glenn Donaldson
Tutor: Colleen Niland
GREEN GOLD & BLUEHow well does Australia deal with Mental Health in 2011?

external image ruok.jpg

No seriously, are you ok?
It's a question that is asked just as often and casually as,"What's for dinner?" or "Add me on Facebook?" what's so important about this simple query?



The video played above is one of the many small television advertisements being run by the Australian Government in support of R U OK day, a campaign that has been put in place to help prevent suicide, and break down the barriers that mental disorders can create. The advertisement commercial shows Australian actor Hugh Jackman sitting down casually dressed while a banner of ‘R U OK’ hangs in the corner. He casually addresses the camera and asks viewers to simply walk up to someone, grab a cup of coffee and ask, "Are you ok?". This short thirty second advertisement uses simple appeal messages to capture its audience, but its the underlying message that hits listeners and kick starts a whole revelation of what ‘R U OK’ is really about.

The Australian government has recognised that mental health disorders is a growing issue not just in Australia, but across the globe by introducing support guides, programs and campaigns like ‘R U OK’. In this particular advertisement, they have used Hugh Jackman as one of their figure heads for running the campaign. By using a strong, well-known male actor, the campaign is able to appeal not only to the male community but also the female community as the sex appeal still arises despite the issue being discussed. The care-free nature that Hugh Jackman states his message and intent also breaks down the ‘clinical’ structure of discussing mental illness topics such as depression and suicide. His suggestive, calming voice helps the listeners understand what ‘R U OK’ is about and wanting to achieve, without the use of statistics and intimidating stimuli. ‘R U OK’ is dependent on it’s underlying phrase of, ‘A conversation could change a life..” which suggests that this campaign is used to help create a building block for people to initiate conversation about their problems and worries, and to then build on this with seeking further aid. The advertisement is highly effective in drawing in the audience, and helping them realise that we really do need to simply ask someone each day, “Are you ok?”.


Mental health disorders has had a large amount of misconception and doubt in the past century on the causes of mental illness and wether it is real or not. Within Australia, it is estimated that at least 1 in 5 Australians will suffer from some form of mental disease, and at least 1 in 10 will develop a serious form of mental illness (MNMI, 2011). It is also estimated that at least 1.1 million Australians are living with depression (MNMI, 2011). Mental illness has been evident across history in mass numbers, however it wasn’t until 2003 that the Australian government announced mental disorders as the highest source of disability within Australia, and the third biggest heath problem (Holmes, 2003). Through numerous amounts of research conducted in Australia as well as internationally, it is found that depression is the highest ranked burden associated with mental illness, with at least 15% of people diagnosed with depression committing suicide (Holmes, 2003).

Mental illness can be seen occurring through all socio-economic backgrounds, cultures, and genders in different aspects, however it is clear that mental illness can occur to anybody at any time. It is estimated that the highest category of people in western cultures such as Australia, United States and Britain that suffer from depression are aged between 18-24 years old (Sawyer, et al. 2001). Similarly, within Australia, 14% of children between 4-17 years old have a mental health problem, with males slightly more likely to experience a mental illness (Sawyer, et al. 2001).

Research findings like this constantly show the need for government budgets to allow funding towards its public health systems, programs, foundations and media awareness to help aid and support the entire community through mental health issues. Australia in 2011 announced a change in their health budget plan for mental health by introducing a $2.2 billion dollar package scheme over five years to help improve and build on their already existent mental health structure (Federal Budget, 2011). This change has ensured that programs and foundations like ‘R U OK’ day are able to be supported in ensuring Australia is leading towards an improved mental health structure.


Mental disorders can be traced back for centuries and has been a changing, developing issue, affecting all countries and cultures differently. The development of mental illnesses can be depicted today as several major health issues consisting of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorders and eating disorders. However, these different types of illnesses can be traced back to ancient times with civilizations such as Greece, Italy, Egypt and Rome having recordings of demonic possession, or environment diseases being the cause of what modern society now knows as mental disorders (AllPsych, 2002). Greek physician from 400 B.C., Hippocrates for examples presumed that the imbalanced environments, foods and weather patterns effected an individuals state of health, which Hippocrates eventually presumed that mental illness was a disease (AllPsych, 2002).

It wasn’t until the 19th century when European neurologist Sigmund Freud began investigating the unconscious states of mind, before introducing the notion of talk therapy (Grunbaum, 2007). This particular type of therapy consisted of emphasizing the importance of a client/patient speaking to a therapist in order to work through and solve issues (Grunbaum, 2007). This method is still widely used today and has been developed with different forms of therapy and medications to help with patients suffering from different conditions.

Leading into modern times, mental health has become a widely discussed health topic, with countries only recently beginning to allow their health budgets to support mental health. Australia only began to display a progress within mental health care with the National Mental Health Strategy in 1993 being introduced, with services being put in place for the treatment, housing and support of the community (AGOV, 2011). As mentioned before, the Australian government announced a $2.2 billion dollar package scheme over five years to help improve and build on the current mental health structure (Federal Budget, 2011). This allocated budget can be seen in the public health systems that have already been put in place, for example the accessibility of mental health clinics is high in Australia with at least 750,000 people each year seeking mental health aid from a general practice (ABS, 2011). Even though it is estimated that only 30% of Australians seek mental health aid, the health structures are put in place for all socio-economic backgrounds to benefit from (ABS, 2011).

Other western society cultures such as the United States and Europe are similar in their health budget sections dedicated to mental health aid, however the US medicare system only provides cost covers of 30-45%, and in conjunction with the US private health care costs, the lack of financial help contributes to the rising numbers of those reluctant to seek mental health aid (H&HS, 2011). It is estimated that at least 80% of homeless people have some form of mental disorder (Henwood, Padgett, Stanhope & Stefancic, 2011). In 2003, the amount of Australia’s population that was currently homeless was 0.5% of the entire population, compared to the US homeless population of 1.4% and Europe population of 2% (Henwood, Padgett, Stanhope & Stefancic, 2011). Australia is working towards building shelters for the homeless and fund more free clinics to help lower this percentage.

When compared on a global scale, Australia is showing to be one of very few countries that are putting mental health organisations and health systems in place. The lack of funding for mental health policies and non-existent budgets are having huge effects on third world countries such as Africa, which which spends just under 2% of their falling health budget on mental health (AMHF, 2011). Also, with only 8,000 registered psychologists in South Africa compared to half a million in U.S, the need for mental health aid is more urgent in third world countries (APA, 2011).
The Australian government has built on the health budget allowance for mental health by sponsoring and funding charities, and organisations that are being put in place to effectively help identify, treat specific social groups that are being effected by mental health. R U OK day is just one of many government sponsored programs that are in place to ensure that each different social group are being appealed to in regards to helping with an individual come to terms with a mental disorder. Gender equity is an example of this as men are recorded in higher numbers of suicide rate compared to women, with approximately 80% of suicides recorded being male (NAMI, 2010). Beyond Blue, a government funded organisation have introduced a National Mens Shed Program that aims at holding sessions and programs for men who suffer from depression or other mental illnesses and helps with support structures that aid with seeking appropriate treatment. In 2004, there was approximately 19,000 people in Victoria under the age of 24 that suffered from a severe mental disorder (AIHW, 2011). Charities such as and Lifeline help to appeal to the lower category age groups where mental disorders are becoming more evident.


There have been many myths that have surrounded mental health in regards to the causes, cures and wether or not it actually occurs. Australia as a western society culture recognizes mental health as a growing issue, which is reflected with their health budget and persistence of applying charities and programs to aid the nation. Eastern culture societies such as Japan and China have a significantly large budget allowance for mental health, for example Japan spends 5% of its approximately $50 billion dollar health budget towards mental health aid (Japan Social Security Policy, 2004). However, even with the large budget allowance, the cultural stigma towards mental disorders in Eastern culture is preventing sufferers to seek treatment. Individualistic cultures such as Australia and the U.S tend to place more emphasis on themselves, where as collectivist cultures such as Japan and China focus on the concept of the group (Hazelwood and Shakespeare-Finch, 2011). This is reflected in how eastern cultures tend to handle mental disorders, with conditions such as depression and anxiety being ‘shunned’ from being exposed in public. It is a held concept amongst collectivist cultures that mental disorders affect the whole ‘group’ or family and has resulted in higher suicide rates in eastern cultures (Hazelwood and Shakespeare-Finch, 2011). Japan’s suicide rate is approximately 36 suicides out of 100,000 people compared to the U.S being 11 out of 100,000 people (WHO, 2011). It can be suggested that the programs, campaigns and events towards mental health in western cultures would have an impact if adapted into eastern cultures society.

When looking at why government funded programs and campaigns are so affective, a comparison can be made from research conducted about the receiving of social support and the effects that occur afterwards. The giving of social support as been seen to positively impact a individuals psychological well-being dramatically. The concept of creating an environment that a person is able to talk openly and freely shows an increase of positive relations with others which is why campaigns such as R U OK day are so important.


Comparing each countries different stand on mental health with the amount of research conducted, it can be seen that the issue of mental health and disorders are on a definite rise in not just Australia, but on a global scale. It can be seen that there will always be a need for budget allowance towards helping create ways to support mental health aid within each country, which Australia seems to be doing through its many government funded charities and programs such as R U OK day. I think that R U OK day is a very simple yet effective appeal that is ensuring that everyone is constantly aware of mental health disorders affecting a large proportion of the Australian community, and the need to address this becoming greater. The effects of simply asking someone if they are ok, and reverting back to Freud’s use of simple talking therapy shows that a campaign like R U OK day, where you simply ask someone if they are ok, is helping break down barriers between people and create the social support needed for someone with a condition.


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