Winter Breakfast provides food for thought

May 13, 2019

It’s time to take a holistic approach to help people experiencing financial vulnerability, social isolation and poor mental health.

That was the consensus among a panel of experts who addressed those gathered at this year’s Winter Breakfast event, hosted by Uniting Vic.Tas with the support of the City of Stonnington.

Panellists included:
• Dr Michelle Lim, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at Swinburne University
• Professor Jayashri Kulkarni, Professor of Psychiatry at The Alfred and Monash University
• Claerwen Little, National Director of UnitingCare Australia

The discussion was moderated by Uniting Vic.Tas Chief Executive Officer, Paul Linossier.

Some alarming statistics were outlined during the discussion:
• 1 in 6 children and 1 in 8 adults live below the poverty line
• 2.1 million Australians (11% of the population) currently suffer severe or high financial stress
• The highest completed suicide rate in Australia is men over the age of 85
• The second highest completed suicide rate in Australia is women aged 45 to 52
• Those experiencing social isolation are 26% more likely to die earlier in life

The panel explained how financial vulnerabilities and social isolation can significantly impact someone’s mental health, and how poor mental health can in turn cause financial difficulty and place significant strain on social connections.

“Sometimes the mental illness comes first, such as people with schizophrenia, bipolar or other conditions that impair their cognitive thinking, making higher education or employment difficult,” Professor Kulkarni said.

“Then we have the situation of problem gambling. This is an addiction. This is something we need to invest in to understand the causality in the biological and psychological sense, so we can come up with better treatments.”

“We also have the situation where financial stress or social isolation leads to mental health issues. For example, someone who goes into significant financial debt can become anxious and depressed as a result.”

“There needs to be a personalisation of care that takes into account a person’s age, stage, gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexuality and other factors.”

“I would like to make a plea that we all work together in integrating a biological, psychological and social holistic approach to understanding mental illness. This will help us to better understand the condition and provide treatment and recovery programs that tackle all of the above,” Professor Kulkarni added.

The panellists also noted that:
• Greater funding is required to help people with severe mental health issues
• A national housing strategy must be developed to meet the demand for affordable housing

“We’re seeing an alarming number of older women experiencing homelessness. This has led to an increasing number of older women having to go into residential aged care prematurely, because their rental accommodation is unstable,” Ms Little said.

“The lack of affordable housing in this country is touching every part of our community and every age group.”

“This needs to be looked at, at a state and federal level,” she added.
Dr Lim said an increasing number of students are unable to find affordable accommodation, instead turning to couch-surfing as they try to make ends meet.

“This is impacting on their mental health, and in turn impacting on their studies,” Dr Lim said.

The event launched the 2019 Uniting Vic.Tas Winter Breakfast program, which provides a free hot meal to those in need during winter.

For many of those accessing the program, it’s the only hot meal they eat that day.

To support the Winter Breakfast program, donate now.

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