ADJOURNMENT;Health – 15 Nov 2010

Tonight I rise to speak on two very important health issues that are close to my heart. I am speaking about brain tumours and mental health and, in particular, the link between the two. I know I have spoken on both issues in this place previously, but I really believe it is important that the community be educated about these health issues, and I am pleased to be able to do my part to help raise awareness. Brain Tumour Alliance Australia, or BTAA, and beyondblue are two organisations that play an important role in educating the community and also in supporting people who suffer from brain tumours and mental health issues, respectively. These organisations have joined together to raise awareness about the link between brain tumours and mental health. They have been supported by a number of medical professionals, including associate Professor Jane Turner, Dr Eng Siew-Koh and Dr Ally Rooney.

On 28 October I was pleased to host the two organisations at Parliament House in Canberra and launch their joint project, a fact sheet titled ‘Brain tumours, depression and anxiety disorders’. The six-page fact sheet includes information about what brain tumours are, the symptoms and treatment, and advice on managing resulting mental health conditions. There is also advice for carers so that they can stay in the best possible health to ensure that they can provide much-needed support for their loved one. Contact details for a variety of support organisations are also included. There were about 40 people present at the launch, including senators; members; staff; members of the press gallery; and people from the broader community, many of whom have had brain tumours of varying degrees and types.

The CEO of beyondblue, Ms Leonie Young, travelled to Canberra for the launch. Ms Young said:

Being aware of the early signs of depression and anxiety means those who may be affected can get the right treatment. We know that brain tumours increase the risk of depression and anxiety, but people who are well informed about their illness are more able to make decisions and get help early.

This launch also doubled as the launch of International Brain Tumour Awareness Week. I was honoured to be able to represent the Minister for Health and Ageing, the Hon. Nicola Roxon MP, who was unfortunately unable to attend due to other parliamentary commitments. There were other speakers at the launch, and they included Mr Matthew Pitt, Chairman of BTAA and a brain tumour survivor; as I mentioned, Ms Leonie Young, CEO of beyondblue; Ms Sarah Mamalai who is also a brain tumour survivor and has suffered from a mental health condition as a result; Ms Tracey Kristiansen, a carer and fundraiser; and Ms Mary Anne Rosier, who has lost two siblings to brain tumours. Mr Denis Strangman, Secretary of BTAA and Chair of the International Brain Tumour Alliance, was the MC for the event.

Listening to all the speakers tell their stories was a very moving experience. Sarah Mamalai is in her 30s, married with two children and was diagnosed three years ago. She has had two brain surgeries and has had chemotherapy as well as radiation treatment. She has also suffered emotionally and this resulted in a suicide attempt which she acknowledges was fortunately not completed. Despite all this, with the support of her husband, Oscar, and the love of her two young children, Sarah is now thriving. She has even walked the Kokoda Track. Sarah is full of determination and genuinely believes laughter is the best medicine. Sarah spoke very frankly about her personal experience and it was obviously very hard for her to do this. Her speech had a great impact on the audience and what a message she sent.

Mary Anne Rosier spoke of the heartbreak of losing two siblings to brain tumours. She also talked about her surprise at the link between brain tumours and depression and anxiety disorders. Mary Anne spoke of her review of literature on the subject of the link between brain tumours and mental health. She told us the most respected papers put incidences at between 25 and 38 per cent of patients. Caregiver Tracey Kristiansen spoke about caring for her husband who has a brain tumour and also her fundraising efforts. On the pamphlet that we launched, Matthew Pitt stated:

This resource will allow people to recognise the symptoms of depression and anxiety. It will allow them to understand that anxiety and depression are common in people living with a brain tumour, and effective treatment options are available.

We urgently need to find a cure for brain tumours. We also need to find extra support for people living with the disease and for their carers. One of BTAA’s key functions is preparing and distributing information material to patients and their carers and we see this resource as vital for people living with brain tumours and their carers.

Denis Strangman told the meeting that the launch was the most important brain tumour related event to have occurred in federal parliament since May 2004. This was when a bipartisan resolution in the House of Representatives brought attention to the needs of brain tumour patients.

I take this opportunity to sincerely thank all of the speakers for their involvement and also to acknowledge that speaking on such emotional and personal issues is obviously not easy. They all did a wonderful job and I am sure I speak for everyone who was present when I say that we all admired their courage. I also thank the members and senators and their staff who supported this event by attending and, in the case of many senators and members, by wearing the grey awareness ribbons circulated by BTAA. That show of support meant so much to the representatives in the building on the day.

I also acknowledge the strong commitment the Gillard Labor government is making to fighting illness and cancers, including brain tumours. The government considers research into brain tumours and depression—which are linked—as vitally important to the quality of life, health and wellbeing of people affected by these illnesses, their carers and families. In 2006, 1,402 new cases of brain cancer were diagnosed in Australia, representing just over one per cent of all cancers. Brain tumours often affect people’s mental health, including through depression and anxiety disorders. Of course, a diagnosis of cancer does not just affect the person diagnosed but affects the family, caregivers and friends.

The work of beyondblue is a significant component of the Gillard government’s commitment to improve the lives of people with mental illness. Over the next four years the government will provide $36.8 million for beyondblue, the national depression initiative, to continue and build upon its great work. The Brain Tumour Alliance Australia provides an important role in representing the brain tumour community from the viewpoint of the patient, the family and the caregiver. The government, through Cancer Australia, is supporting research, clinical trials and cancer support networks to improve outcomes of those affected by brain cancers. Our commitment to fight cancer is clear.

In conclusion, I thank once again all the people who spoke at the launch. As I said, it is not easy for any of those people to stand up and lay their lives open like that. I also thank BTAA and beyondblue for all the hard work that they do to raise awareness and to support people when that support is absolutely critical. I encourage everyone to visit their websites and and to spend some time learning about these illnesses.