Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Positive Psychology initiatives must be funded by the new mental health budget

Tonight's Budget announcement to increase funding for mental health by $2bn shines a spotlight on an important issue. However, it is important that these funds are spent to improve mental health and not just to increase spending on treatments.

There are two separate elements to be addressed in mental health funding:
1. Mental illnesses
2. Mental health

These are different and require different approaches.

BMRI delivers on the medical model treating mental illness

The head of Sydney University's Brain and Mental Research Institute (BMRI), Prof Ian Hickie, is a psychiatrist, who is expert in the mental illness field. He is a key adviser to the government.

This Institute is proud to house some of Australia's most eminent brain scientists. These scientists are working on cures for debilitating mental conditions such as Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and Multiple Sclerosis.

Australia should be proud of this work, and it should receive substantial public funding.

Mental health is also about enhancing well being - the mental illness model is simply not appropriate

For over 20 years, the study of mental health has recognized that the mental illness model doesn't help in many cases. The mental illness model assumes that some form of treatment is the solution. It is codified by the DSM (diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders).

It discounts the Positive Psychology work pioneered by Dr Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania, supported by others such as Prof Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Prof Christopher Peterson from the University of Michigan.

Seligman and Peterson have authored an alternative to the DSM called CSV (Character Strengths and Virtues) which focuses on increasing the positive psychological traits of human beings instead of only reducing the negatives.

In Australia, the only course in positive psychology is the Executive Certificate in Positive Psychology Coaching run by Dr Tim Sharp from the UTS. Despite the expansion of courses at prestigious institutions such as Harvard and Stanford, this lack of courses and research in Australia needs to be addressed.

Tonight, the Treasurer announced that funding would be provided for prevention. Positive Psychology provides the best scientific basis for prevention of mental health issues. It needs to be included in the funding mix.

The Treasurer is right - prevention is important, and instead of funding for mental health only being directed to the medical sciences, substantial funding is required for positive psychology, via our outstanding academic institutions and reputable organisations such as the Australian Positive Psychology Association.

I call for the new National Mental Health Commission to allocate substantial funding from the $2bn budget to positive psychology initiatives.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

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