Australia needs ‘mental wealth’ lens on post-COVID recovery

A multidisciplinary research initiative at the University of Sydney brings together academics, industry experts, policymakers, and community representatives to capitalise on the nation’s cognitive and emotional resources to reimagine the economic and social future of Australia.

The University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre is home to the first Australian enterprise dedicated to measuring, monitoring, and forecasting mental wealth, both at national and regional levels. The Mental Wealth Initiative is aimed at understanding which set of policy levers across economic, social, education and health sectors will contribute to greater national prosperity beyond GDP.

At an online event today the Mental Wealth Initiative started consultation on a Charter for the Mental Wealth of Nations which will include a set of guiding principles for sustainably rebuilding Australia post-COVID. It builds on the premise that shifting the national conversation from the cost of mental illness to the value of mental wealth will set Australia on a better path to recovery.

I’m proud that we have created this Initiative to collaborate on addressing the issue of mental health in a broader context.

Professor Mark Scott, Vice-Chancellor and Principal

The Initiative pursues an ‘asset approach’ to ensuring Australia’s future mental wealth by upgrading cognitive and emotional wellbeing through a broad range of interventions. This contrasts with the traditional ‘deficit approach’ that only engages, principally through the health system, when problems arise.

“How a nation nurtures its collective mental capital, mental health and wellbeing through adequate education, employment and economic security, housing, healthcare, psychological and cultural safety and through equal access to opportunity, will have a profound impact on the resilience of communities, on our economic competitiveness and on our national prosperity,” said Associate Professor Jo-An Occhipinti, Co-Director of the Mental Wealth Initiative, and Head of Systems Modelling, Simulation and Data Science at the University’s Brain and Mind Centre.

“It is going to take the combined instruments of science, policy, politics, public resolve, social legislation, and international cooperation to shift us onto a new path as we build back national prosperity in the post-pandemic recovery.”

Australian and international experts across areas such as business, economics, law, education, industrial relations, social policy and mental health are participating in the Initiative.

Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Mark Scott AO commented, “Using the breadth and depth of our expertise and connections to establish multidisciplinary initiatives is a key strength of the University. I’m proud that we have created this Initiative to collaborate on addressing the issue of mental health in a broader context and that a wide range of leaders in research, government, business, NGOs and communities are already involved.’

Today’s event included insights into how mental wealth can contribute to governance, urban planning, education and political decision-making from the advisory board – 29th Prime Minister the Hon Malcolm Turnbull AC, Lucy Turnbull AO, Professor Allan Fels AO and the Hon Dr Craig Emerson.

The Initiative enacts the vision of two of Australia’s inaugural national mental health commissioners, Professor Allan Fels AO and the Co-Director of Health and Policy at the Brain and Mind Centre, Professor Ian Hickie AM.

Professor Hickie noted that “this work has long required a sustained academic base, and I am very pleased that the many strengths of our comprehensive University have now been brought together to provide the essential infrastructure.”

Professor John Buchanan, Co-Director, Mental Wealth Initiative, Business Information Systems, Business School commented, “The Initiative harnesses insights from dynamic systems modelling provided by Brain and Mind Researchers and expertise from the full range of business and social science disciplines.

“We are especially interested in identifying new ways of strengthening the foundational economy – sectors like health, education and community services – that provide the infrastructure for everyday life.

“A hallmark of the Initiative is combining new research findings with the insights of frontline organisations, to understand the factors that create positive mental health outcomes for our community throughout their lives.”

Today’s event also included messages from:

  • The Hon. Geoff Gallop AC – 27th Premier of Western Australia (2001 – 2006) and Emeritus Professor, University of Sydney.
  • Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.
  • Murali Doraiswamy, Chair, World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Mental Health; and Professor of Psychiatry and Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine.
  • Sandro Galea, Chair of the Rockefeller Foundation-Boston University 3-D Commission; Dean, Robert A. Knox Professor, School of Public Health, Boston University.
  • Petra Meier, Director, SIPHER Consortium; and Professor of Systems Science in Public Health, University of Glasgow.
  • Cameron Fox, Head of Health Technologies , World Economic Forum.
  • Ante Prodan, Board Director, Computer Simulation and Advanced Research Technologies (CSART).

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