This page was first published in September 2014 and has now been archived.
If our community is well and resilient, it will help us to meet our own life challenges successfully
Photo of residents of Koolabong Village

"Mental health is defined as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community" World Health Organisation

Read about University of Wollongong's Kooloobong Village - the first student residence to adopt principles of positive psychology

On this page

Promoting community resilience and wellbeing
Who are we talking about?
What is important for the whole community
Why has it been so tough?
The research tell us
How we can make things better
We can get there

Promoting community resilience and wellbeing

Mental health is a basic human right. And yet by 2020 depression is expected to be the second biggest burden of disease around the world after heart disease. That’s why we know we have to promote resilience, wellbeing and good mental health. If our whole community is well and resilient, we as individuals are more likely to meet our own life challenges successfully.

Social and emotional wellbeing means being able to enjoy life, to cope with stress and sadness, to fulfil goals and potential and to feel connected to others. But it isn’t only these things.

Stable and safe accommodation or housing, meaningful employment, educational opportunities and positive social connections are particularly important to those of us already facing mental health challenges but they also help vulnerable people not to fall into mental ill health in the first place.

Just as physical health is not merely the absence of disease, mental health is not merely the absence of mental illness. Improved community-wide understanding can only help reduce stigma and discrimination, as will prevention and early intervention in the community and shifting care and support away from hospitals.

Promoting mental health and wellbeing helps reduce risky behaviours such as alcohol and drug misuse – including tobacco – and social and economic problems such as dropping out of school, crime, absenteeism from work, and the rates and severity of physical and mental illness.

Who are we talking about?

We are all on this journey together – at least, we should be. The journey can progress smoothly only if responsibility for mental health and wellbeing goes beyond health service providers
to include governments at all levels, non-government – or community-managed – agencies, employers, teachers, police, community leaders and the wider community itself.

Families and carers, including young carers, are on this journey too and they play a significant role. Their physical and mental health and wellbeing are often compromised and this isn’t acknowledged enough.

Almost half (45%) of Australians will be affected by a mental illness at some point in their lives, so the human and social costs are immense. Among the groups particularly at risk of experiencing mental illness are:

  • Aboriginal people
  • Culturally and linguistically diverse groups (CALD)
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI)
  • People in regional, rural or remote areas - People in or leaving the criminal justice system
  • People whose mental illness is complicated by drug and alcohol use, chronic illness or a disability
  • Families and carers of people with mental illness, including young carers  
  • Adult survivors of sexual and other abuse  
  • Children and young people in the care and protection system, including in foster care
  • Forgotten Australians: children, including child migrants placed in institutional care or care outside a home setting during the 20th century.

What's important for the whole community?

  • Choice
  • Connection
  • Dignity
  • Early intervention
  • Empowerment
  • Family
  • Friendship
  • Information
  • Resilience
  • Self-agency
  • Self-belief
  • Support
  • Wellbeing

Why has it been so tough?

NSW’s hospital-based system has undermined a holistic, person-centred approach to

  • care
  • self-agency
  • mental health promotion
  • mental illness prevention
  • early intervention when mental illness occurs.

Services are fragmented and people typically have to go to a range of providers to get the help they require, when what they really need is to be able to go to a single one.

We also use language that perpetuates misunderstanding of what the term mental health means.

While the community can readily accept efforts to reduce or treat physical illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes, this isn’t the case for mental health care and support because these are less well understood. This is particularly the case for community-based care.

All these things make it harder to promote better mental health and wellbeing in general.

The research tells us

Statistics on the benefits of mental health

Focussing on mental health can foster:

  • higher educational achievement
  • improved relationships
  • personal dignity
  • safer and healthier families, schools, workplaces, communities

Things that support good mental health* are:

  • social inclusion
  • opportunity for self-determination and control of one's life
  • meaningful employment, education, income and housing
  • being involved in a variety of activities
  • having a valued social position
  • physical and psychological security

*The evidence suggests the same things protect against harmful drug and alcohol use, and reduce suicide.

How we can make things better

We need to shift our focus from illness to wellness and from despair to hope and recovery.

We need to encourage self-agency – when people draw on their own strengths and the resources of their families and friends – because this supports communities as well as individuals.

Self-agency is more than self-care. It’s about being able to access the information and tools to care for yourself, make choices and have control over what you do.

The message is one of equal access to support services, self-belief, empowerment and being mentally well.

We need to build a skilled peer workforce at all levels of the mental health system and this means a commitment to capacity building and training. People who have travelled, or who are travelling, the mental health recovery journey must have the capacity and opportunity to take up senior roles, where their profound insights can help to inform and transform policy.

Services that support families and carers and promote their mental health and wellbeing should be an integral part of the approach, not just an add-on.

Any future system must support whole communities to maintain good mental health and wellbeing and to be resilient when faced with challenges in life. This must include the specific needs of diverse groups.

We can get there

  • Tell the whole mental health and wellbeing story: Mental wellbeing, strength and resilience come through social and economic participation. We all need to be included socially in our communities and to have meaningful employment and education opportunities, and stable and safe accommodation and housing.
  • We'll do better if community leaders and agencies work together: We need to build capacity and support for mental health and wellbeing in the community through education, training and programs proved to make a difference. We need community leaders to lead, implement and champion change – with tailored strategies or programs – and we must make sure information is shared across sectors.
  • Networks of people are key to mental health and wellbeing: Let’s engage with carers, families, colleagues and friends, and not only when people are at risk or experiencing mental health problems. We all benefit when everyone has good mental health and wellbeing and the resilience to maintain them.
  • We're more likely to get there with fewer roadblocks: If we are truly person-centred, we’ll know what’s available in all communities so that we can guide people to the right information, with easy access if and when they need it.
  • Doing it ourselves will ensure long-term wellbeing and resilience: One size doesn’t fit all. We’ll all do better in terms of deciding and managing what’s right for us if flexibility, self-agency and supportive care planning and delivery underpin everything.
  • Let's think outside the square when we talk about peers: A peer can be someone in a formal support role, or a friend, a workmate, or someone in a social or sporting club. We should value and let people who can and want to help do just that, especially if they are on the same journey of maintaining mental health and wellbeing or recovering from mental illness.
  • Let's improve access to services by acknowledging people's culture: We must ensure programs and solutions are welcoming to people regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, age or circumstances, and to their families and communities. If we don’t, people won’t use them.

Related links

Strategic Plan and Report


Source material for content on this page is from the Living Well Report

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Last updated: 28 June 2017