By Harry Lovelock, Acting CEO Mental Health Australia.
Last weekend, amid an anti-trans rally, the passing of South Australia’s First Nations Voice to Parliament Bill, and the New South Wales state election results, Neighbour Day had its 21st anniversary. Neighbour Day launched in 2003, created in part by the discovery of 75-year-old Elsie Brown in her suburban Melbourne home two years after her death. In the decades since, our understanding of loneliness has evolved. We know that social connectedness and loneliness have far-reaching impacts and are critical factors in a person’s mental health and wellbeing.
People can be surrounded by family and friends and still be lonely. In the words of loneliness researcher, Dr Michelle Lim, “loneliness is prevalent but highly misunderstood”. Connection, too, comes in different forms – not just physical proximity, but also cultural connectedness, and being accepted in the community. Uniting behind an idea is one of the many ways we seek connection, however when ideas pull communities apart, we are left with trauma and disconnection.
We know feelings of belonging and acceptance play a huge role in the mental health of trans and gender diverse youth. Sadly, demand for LGBTQIA+ mental health support drastically increased following the anti-trans rally that took place in Victoria last Sunday, prompting the Victorian government to announce a $900K package to help respond to the additional need for care.
In our democratic, diverse, and multicultural Australia we expe ct to see ourselves represented in politics, and having a voice in legislation enables us to participate in, and truly feel a part of, our society. Yet as we approach the Referendum on a Voice to Parliament, it has sparked debate in and out of the political sphere, leading to fears of an increase in racist abuse experienced by First Nations Australians.
None of it feels very neighbourly.
Fostering togetherness within our communities requires effort and commitment, but we know we can achieve it. Even early in the pandemic, as people actively sought ways to keep in touch. We nurtured relationships that had suddenly been relegated to phone and computer screens and developed new ones in the wider community as we came together to support the elderly and vulnerable, walk each other’s dogs, volunteer, and drop off each other’s groceries.
Neighbours Every Day is the next evolution of Neighbour Day – which suggests 10 steps that we can all take as we work to create belonging – and look after our mental health by looking after each other.
31 March 2023
Mental Health Australia is the peak, national non-government organisation representing and promoting the interests of the Australian mental health sector and committed to achieving better mental health for all Australians. Mental Health Australia members include national organisations representing consumers, carers, special needs groups, clinical service providers, professional bodies, public and private mental health service providers, researchers and state/territory community mental health peak bodies.