Queensland duo lend weight to mental health response

West Moreton’s leading mental health researchers will fly the flag for Queensland in Australia’s first mental health think tank.

Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research Director Professor John McGrath and Policy and Epidemiology Group leader Professor Harvey Whiteford are among 11 experts invited to join the COVID-19 Mental Health Response independent Think Tank.

The think tank, led by the University of Sydney’s Matilda Centre and funded by the BHP Foundation, will bring together a broad range of expertise to consider evidence-based mental health policy as part of the national response to COVID-19.

Professor McGrath, who is experienced in risk factor epidemiology, said he would work alongside Professor Whiteford to predict future population health demands to support appropriate resourcing and planning.

“We hope to provide guidance on what services will be needed to cope with the expected increase in mental health issues,” he said.

“Just as we have the ‘curve’ to describe the COVID-19 epidemic and the need for hospital and ICU beds, we need forecasting models that can predict what mental health resources will be needed to deal with the longer-latency outcomes such as mental health disorders.

“There is some evidence to suggest that stress-related disorders, such as depression, anxiety and substance use disorders, as well as self-harm attempts have increased since the pandemic. The rate of unemployment could also adversely impact on mental health issues.”

West Moreton Health chief executive Dr Kerrie Freeman congratulated the pair on their appointment to the think tank, and for their ongoing support for mental health recovery through evidence-based research.

“The challenge of the global pandemic is making sure that we are prepared for both the immediate health needs and the future needs of the community given the long-lasting and evolving nature of the pandemic,” she said.

“We are truly lucky to have the leadership and expertise of researchers like John and Harvey. They have vast experience in understanding risk factors in mental health and, importantly, analysing patterns to prevent illness in the community.”

Issues the COVID-19 Mental Health Response independent Think Tank will address include:

  • the collection of high-quality data on the mental health effects of COVID-19 across the population and vulnerable groups
  • the capacity of Australian systems to respond to the medium-and longer-term mental health consequences of the pandemic and future pandemics or critical incidents
  • the capacity required to provide a national digital health response to anticipated mental health consequences.