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ACT Mental Health Month Awards Ceremony, Watson ACT


I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal People, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, emerging leaders and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today.

Good afternoon, all.

Thank you to the Mental Health Community Coalition ACT for your kind invitation to Linda and me to attend the ACT Mental Health Month Awards. The Awards recognise the outstanding contributions of individuals and organisations who work in mental health in the ACT.

Mental Health Month is held each year in October and aims:

  • to raise awareness of mental health
  • to increase our understanding of mental health
  • to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness
  • to ensure that no-one feels that they must suffer in silence
  • to promote the importance of positive mental health and wellbeing.

These are all very important messages to send to the community.

It’s also important to celebrate the achievements of those who work in mental health — and that’s why we’re here today. In congratulating the nominees and the winners (in advance), I also want to acknowledge the critically important work undertaken by all in the ACT mental health sector. Thank you for the work you do.

In her introduction, Genevieve [Jacobs, emcee] mentioned the theme for Mental Health Month in the ACT — ‘Conversations and connection.’ I like that theme, particularly because it is a call to action.

It requires us to do something rather than simply observe. To be part of a solution by actively supporting someone’s mental health. Conversing and connecting. They are simple but highly effective acts that help.

Since becoming Governor-General in July last year, and as Governor of New South Wales before that, Linda and I have visited many, many Australian communities and spoken with thousands of people. Many of these visits have been to communities ravaged by drought, flood and fire.

We visited Cobargo and the Adelaide Hills earlier this month and met with people who are still dealing with the horror of the summer bushfires. Many of these people are still struggling.

We came away from these visits — and it’s a feeling we’ve experienced on many occasions — with mixed emotions. On one hand we know the situation for many of these people is still dire, but on the other we are buoyed to hear that fellow members of the community and trusted friends check in on them on a regular basis. That’s just one example of how ‘Conversation and connection’ can help.

I think one of the things we discovered through the bushfire period and the pandemic is what it really means to be a neighbour. How to look out for each other. As everyone in this room or participating online knows, the simple act of asking someone if they are okay, listening carefully to the response, and acknowledging that response in an appropriate way goes a long way to helping someone who is struggling with their mental health.

And many Australians ARE struggling — right now, 1 in 5 has a mental health issue. Recent studies suggest this might increase to 1 in 4 as result of the impacts of COVID-19. Nearly half of our population will experience issues with mental health in our lifetime. And with the level of unemployment expected to increase as a consequence of the COVID-19 economic response, I fear there is more hardship and distress on the way. People will be dislocated from education and opportunity. People will be living week to week; many already are.

Professor Patrick McGorry — a former Australian of the Year and one of our most respected voices in the field of mental health — says, ‘We’re going to see threats to mental health like we’ve never seen before.’

And, so — for all of you who work in mental health — you have a mammoth task ahead of you. It won’t be easy.

But when I look through the various award categories and hear of the calibre of the people working on the many wonderful initiatives, I know that people in the ACT are in good hands.

Congratulations, again, to the nominees. The expertise and efforts of all members of the mental health sector in the ACT help underpin our community.

Thank you all for the critically important work you do.