Politics Analysis

Mainstream media ignore mental health data to denigrate Dan Andrews

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The Victorian Government has received a lot of unfavourable coverage from the mainstream media (image via YouTube)

A malicious media campaign against an effective state leader is currently underway in Australia, reports Alan Austin.

THE BEST data currently available shows Victoria’s lockdown – now the world’s longest – has saved countless lives. This has not stopped News Corp and Nine Entertainment from condemning Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews for causing profound distress.

Andrews' Government leads the world

No other nation or state copped more than 700 COVID deaths in 2020 and then got that tally down to below 70 in 2021. Andrews' Government alone has managed that.

These eight states have comparable populations, demographics and health care systems — all highly advanced. All of them had surges in COVID deaths in mid-2020. Lives lost in the four months from June to September 2020 were:

  • Ireland: 161
  • Switzerland: 112
  • Bulgaria: 685
  • British Columbia (Canada): 70
  • Massachusetts (USA): 2,610
  • Indiana (USA): 1,720
  • Tennessee (USA): 1,948
  • Victoria (Australia): 778

All of them implemented recovery programs, with quite different outcomes. Their COVID deaths over the twelve months from October 2020 to September 2021 were:

Helpline reach greatly expanded

All mental health agencies have reported increased calls to their helplines this year in Victoria and Australia-wide. 

The 2020 Budget allocated $46.1 million to Victoria for pandemic-related mental illness in the last financial year. Another $413 million was provided in this year’s Budget for national mental health and suicide prevention.

That funding expanded facilities, increased awareness of support services, enabled online counselling, eliminated applicants being turned away due to agency overload, reduced the stigma associated with seeking help and enabled support for conditions previously neglected including eating disorders and autism spectrum issues.

Naturally, there was a huge – and very welcome – increase in services delivered. The data does not show worsening mental health across the community.

Frenzied media attacks

Instead of analysing accurately the data we have, Victoria’s media have accused Premier Andrews of causing a disastrous mental health crisis.

Recent headlines include:

  • The Age: 'Alarm over child mental health as lockdowns trigger "undiagnosed, unrecognised" issues' 
  • The Age: '"Everyone's struggling"Lockdown drives spike in mental health treatment for children'
  • The Age: 'The Premier’s management plan has failed again' 
  • The Australian: 'Victorian Premier Dan Andrews owes apologies to 6.6m plus one' 
  • The Australian: 'Locked-down and out in Daniel Andrews’ penal pandemic paradise' 
  • AFR: 'Spike in distressed children presenting to emergency' 
  • AFR: '"Shattered": Melbourne left closed till November'
  • Herald Sun: 'Melbourne hits ‘miserable’ lockdown milestone amid "shadow mental health pandemic"’
  • Herald Sun: 'Dan Andrews' lockdown will cause an “abundance of pain” for regional Victoria' 

Data misrepresented

All those articles misrepresent the situation by omission or distortion or even blatant fabrication, as well as by those emotive headlines. The Age article at the top of the above list provided no evidence that mental health issues were ‘triggered’ by the lockdowns. It started thus:

'Child counsellors and psychiatrists have voiced their concern as new state government figures show a surge in teens presenting at emergency departments for mental health issues during Victoria’s lockdowns and school closures.'

The article did not identify the source of those ‘government figures’. Independent Australia asked The Age – four times – the first time seven days ago, but has received no reply.

A report IA has located shows virtually the opposite. A document released by the Victorian Agency for Health Information reveals:

  • Mental health-related visits to emergency departments (ED) increased markedly in the winter months (May to August) of 2018, 2019 and 2020, but fell in 2021;
  • Mental health-related ED visits were lower this year than the previous two years relative to population;
  • Mental health-related ED visits, aged 18 to 24, in August this year were lower than in any of the previous three years;
  • Mental health-related ED visits, aged 0-17, were higher in 2021, as expected with greatly expanded services; and
  • The number of schizophrenia, paranoia and acute psychotic disorder-related ED visits, all ages, has declined sharply since March this year and is now well below the levels of the last three years.

Critically, the number of active mental health consumers has declined steadily from a peak last December to a four-year low in August. 

Mental health consumers F.jpg

Victoria leads the nation

Last week the Bureau of Statistics released its annual causes of death data, which revealed mortality rates from mental illnesses for 2020. Victoria, as IA reported last week, was the one stand-out success.

Fatalities due to mental and behavioural disorders, circulatory disorders and heart attacks all declined nationally in 2020. The declines were greatest in Victoria.

The 2020 suicide rate fell in Victoria to the lowest level in four years. 

Suicides Vic 2009-20 F.jpg

The data confirms mental health has likely improved in Victoria through the pandemic and is now much better than in other states. The mainstream media are malicious, mendacious and wrong.

If you or anyone you know needs support call Lifeline on 131 114, Beyond Blue on 1800 512 348, or Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800.

Alan Austin’s defamation matter is nearly over. You can read the latest update here and support the crowd-funding hereAlan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.

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