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Planning cities to improve mental health

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Media Release | The Greater Sydney Commission is to host leading international mental health experts who are looking at how better-planned cities can improve people's mental health.

"One of the main focuses of the Commission is to plan a liveable city, which plays a major role in mental health and wellbeing, and this is why we're hosting this visit," said the Greater Sydney Commission's Social Commissioner Heather Nesbitt. 

"Liveability factors include providing plenty of open green spaces for rest and recreation, creating 30 minute cities with easy work commutes to reduce the stress on families and reasonable access to health services."

Other liveability factors that can improve people's mental health include:

  • Planning the built environment to provide places for positive social interaction and reduce social isolation.
  • Planning social infrastructure like parks, community centres and arts/cultural centres that enables people to be involved in their community and feel included.
  • A more equitable city supports mental health as it ensures everyone has better access to what they need.
  • More walkable cities improve mental health with research showing that physical activity is good for mental wellbeing.

The two day visit, entitled Urban Collaborative - Supporting Mental Health and Wellbeing in Cities, will be held on the 27 and 28th of February and forms part of the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership (IIMHL) conference, hosted by the Mental Health Commission of NSW and NSW Ministry of Health.

"The two day collaborative will build relationships and share knowledge on how mental health can be addressed as part of a broader city agenda," said Ms Nesbitt.

"It provides a unique opportunity to learn from mental health experts from around the world on how planning liveable cities can improve residents' mental health," she said.

There will be 20 delegates attending the Greater Sydney Commission with overseas delegates coming from the UK, US, Canada, Sweden, India, Spain, South America and New Zealand.

"The importance of urban planning to mental health is a relatively new area and there's great interest in this emerging topic," said Fran Silvestri CEO IIMHL.

"This two-day collaborative represents the inaugural meeting of the International City and Urban Regional Collaborative (I-CIRCLE): an initiative set up to support mental health and wellbeing within urban settings and enable citizens to thrive.

"The idea was conceived by Dr Arthur Evans, Philadelphia's Commissioner of Behavioural Health and Disability Services, at an IIMHL Leadership Exchange in Vancouver.

"Dr Evans, who is attending the Sydney collaborative, will talk about the work the City of Philadelphia has carried out prompted by the recognition that the major issues for our urban communities like homelessness, crime and employment are intertwined with behavioural health issues."

The delegates will visit Wollondilly Shire Council which recently adopted a social planning strategy designed to help deal with the substantial growth the area is undergoing.

"Wollondilly is undergoing unprecedented population growth at the moment including the creation of a major new town at Wilton with a population of up to 50,000," said Luke Johnson, General Manager of Wollondilly Shire Council.

"So it's important that the Council has a strategic approach to delivering social sustainability, quality of life and community wellbeing. That's why we adopted the social planning strategy and a number of Council staff have undertaken training in Health Impact Assessment," he said.

The collaborative will also visit the Information and Cultural Exchange I.C.E., an innovative Parramatta-based arts organisation delivering community-focused arts and cultural programs (including digital technology, training and artist development) that reveal the value of arts and culture to social inclusion.

"We work collaboratively with the community on arts projects helping them to express themselves,' said John Kirkman, Executive Director of I.C.E.

"We don't tell them what to do but act as facilitators in the creative process. We work with disadvantaged, vulnerable and culturally diverse groups and we find that this inclusive approach works well," he said.

NSW Mental Health Commissioner John Feneley thanked the Greater Sydney Commission for taking part in the IIMHL Exchange event.

"Preventing and treating mental health issues is not the sole responsibility of health professionals. Mental health is everyone's business. We need town planners, educators, social services and more to follow the Greater Sydney Commission's lead and get involved in improving people's wellbeing," Mr Feneley said.

The results of the two-day collaborative will be shared with local government, government agencies and arts and cultural organisations.

Media contact: Peter Scott: 0466 499 352