WCLP Reflection: Charlotte Smith on Health and Wellbeing

5 June 2012 By Charlotte Smith

Charlotte Smith
Charlotte Smith

The May Williamson Community Leadership (WCLP) seminar, hosted by the Monash Medical Centre in Clayton, focused on Optimizing Health and Wellbeing.

The purpose of this seminar was:

  • Discuss key health access and equity issues with a range of significant stakeholders.
  • Hear from leaders balancing policy and operational challenges in the public health system.
  • Gain an understanding of the issues surrounding mental health and the delivery of appropriate services and support.
  • Explore current health priorities (including the growth in ‘lifestyle related illness) and for education and change in health behaviours.


LV asked Charlotte Smith to reflect on the experience:

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. (World Health Organization, 1948)

I went to the seminar feeling pretty well informed about health and wellbeing: my mother ran a private hospital for 25 years; my mother-in-law worked in the area of men’s rural health for 30 years; I grew up in the presence of mental illness, and I’m an avid listener of Norman Swan’s The Health Report.

So I confess none of the issues raised by the day’s presenters – unionised nurses, the need for systemic change in the health care system, mainstreaming mental health, encouraging men to talk about their health and wellbeing, our growing waistbands – came as a surprise. What did shock me were some of the statistics presented: 20% of Australia’s population will suffer depression during their lives, 25% from anxiety; suicide is the biggest killer of men aged 14-44; if current trends continue 66% of the population will be clinically obese by 2025. All startling and scary figures.

I was compelled to ask myself how, armed with all the data and evidence, leaders can affect change to ensure that everyone in society is healthy as defined by the WHO? How do we provide equitable access to health care for those who are suffering from disease or infirmity, whatever their social or economic circumstance? And how do eradicate the underlying determinants to poor health like low levels of education, violence and discrimination from our system?

What became clear to me by the end of the day was the solution cannot be achieved without all areas of the health care system – health care providers, researchers, personal crusaders, support groups, public policy makers – and government working together. To ensure effective legislation and ongoing funding, evidenced-based data is essential. Encouraging more selfless, strategic thinkers into political life like Mary Wooldridge would also be advantageous.

I also reflected on the role we can play within our own communities; my own, the museum sector, is already engaged in education through exhibitions, public programs and community engagement. But I recognise that we could do a lot more; rather than simply interpret the data which is our current modus operandi, we should be actively engaged in research and public debate.

Idealist that I am, I do believe that through education museums can effect cultural and social change. If we can educate the young to change their behaviour (children being one of the museum’s largest audience segments) is it possible that the alarming figures presented at the Health and Wellbeing seminar could be reduced? I certainly hope so.

Charlotte Smith is a Senior Curator at Museum Victoria and a participant in LV’s Williamson Community Leadership Program 2012 (WCLP ’12).