Clarence Valley
Clarence Valley

Is our region the happiest place to be?

THE Clarence Valley has been declared one of the happiest places in NSW, according to a recently compiled index of mental health medication data.

The state's dependence on pharmaceuticals has soared under the stress of unemployment and other issues, and while Western Sydney and some regions doing it tougher than their metro counterparts, the Clarence Valley has topped the list of NSW's happiest and most stable regions.

Mental health medication consumption increased by only 5 per cent in the five years in the Clarence.

The Daily Telegraph has compiled a Happiness Index, analysing five years worth of data on the number of mental health medications handed out in 90 areas across the state under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. There were a staggering 53.6 million medications given out across the state from 2015 to 2019, with Camden having the greatest percentage increase of 34 per cent. The top 10 areas where the use of meds jumped the most were dominated by Western Sydney and regional NSW - Camden, Wollondilly, Rouse Hill, Blacktown, Penrith, Green Valley and Maitland had the highest growth.

Emily Fraser and her daughter Mila live in Penrith, one of the areas which has had one of the largest increases in mental health medication intakes. Picture: Gaye Gerard
Emily Fraser and her daughter Mila live in Penrith, one of the areas which has had one of the largest increases in mental health medication intakes. Picture: Gaye Gerard

Other regional areas at the top of the list included Queanbeyan, Upper Hunter, Port Stephens and Bathurst.

At the other end of the spectrum, Clarence Valley, Merrylands, Carlingford, Kogarah, Southern Highlands and the eastern suburbs were some of the happiest regions - with less than 10 per cent growth in medication consumption. Experts said financial stability was one of the key factors causing a "happiness divide''.

Junction Hill local and mum-of-three Ellie Hearfield, 28, wasn't surprised her area was home to some of the happiest people in NSW.

Ellie Hearfield 28 with her sons Knox and Hudson at their house in Junction Hill in the NSW Clarence Valley. Picture: Nathan Edwards.
Ellie Hearfield 28 with her sons Knox and Hudson at their house in Junction Hill in the NSW Clarence Valley. Picture: Nathan Edwards.

"We've just really fallen in love with raising our kids here and the slower lifestyle," she said. But at Penrith, the number of mental health scripts being handed to residents has increased by almost 25 per cent since 2015. Nurse and mum-of-three Emily Fraser said she was fearful about the massive rise in her area.

"It's concerning because you think what if one of my kids need the support one day or suffer from mental health.

"You'd like to know that help is there."

Psychologist Dianna Kenny said many of the areas where residents were more likely to be dosed up on psychotropic medication had widespread unemployment.

This included Western Sydney which featured prominently in the most medicated areas and where employment levels are lower than other metro regions.

Psychologist Dianna Kenny has linked unemployment to psychotropic medication use. Picture: Toby Zerna
Psychologist Dianna Kenny has linked unemployment to psychotropic medication use. Picture: Toby Zerna

"We cannot underestimate the importance of unemployment or under employment as a contributor of mental heath,'' she said.

Ms Kenny said natural disasters and the mental and economical consequences of bushfires and drought could explain why regional citizens were so highly-medicated.

"These numbers can indicate a cumulative effect of distress in regional areas,'' she said: "People in regional areas are often business owners who are also more susceptible to economic changes."

She added that a lack of psychologists in regional areas also contributed to the growth in medication.

"Regional people have to wait longer for appointments and travel further to get help generally," she said.

Ms Kenny said areas with the least distressed citizens were generally wealthier.

"(In richer areas) people have more autonomy in their life. They have enough income to choose to work less and enjoy leisure more," she said. "If they don't like their job or an aspect of their life is making them unhappy, they have the disposable income to change that."

Mark McCrindle: “Those who make a sea change or a tree change often report their wellbeing goes up.” Picture: Jordan Shields
Mark McCrindle: “Those who make a sea change or a tree change often report their wellbeing goes up.” Picture: Jordan Shields

Remote areas such as Broken Hill, Coonamble, Lower Murray and Moree ranked among the lowest quarter in mental health needs, but Ms Kenny cautioned there could be hidden mental issues bubbling in those regions, saying: "In some places people talk about their mental health as easily as the weather but that wouldn't be the case in Broken Hill."

More than 10 million scripts for mental health medication were handed out in 2015 and the figure jumped to almost 11.5 million by 2019 with experts predicting further growth in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I think in our society generally there is far too much reliance on psychotropic medication. That's why when there is a crisis in the community like economic recession and natural disasters, you'll see a huge increase," Ms Kenny said.

Social Demographer Mark McCrindle said the happier regions such as the Southern Highlands had a strong focus on community and work-life balance. "Those who make a sea change or a tree change often report their wellbeing goes up,'' he said.

 

Region No. of prescriptions 2015 No. of prescriptions in 2019 Per cent increase

Camden 69,048 92,658 34%

Wollondilly 51,791 67,357 30%

Rouse Hill 32,478 42,200 30%

Blacktown (North) 72,881 94,192 29%

Penrith 182,902 228,558 25%

Maitland 134,081 167,007 25%

Bringelly-Green Valley 88,301 109,287 24%

Queanbeyan 73,156 90,435 24%

Upper Hunter 40,722 50,334 24%

Port Stephens 138,828 167,377 21%

Bathurst 71,581 86,158 20%

Young - Yass 55,360 65,944 19%

Snowy Mountains 27,513 32,757 19%

Tumut - Tumbarumba 23,030 27,346 19%

Orange 105,582 125,121 19%

Hawkesbury 33,263 39,370 18%

Newcastle 302,859 358,108 18%

Lower Hunter 157,682 186,288 18%

Marrickville/Sydenham/Petersham

68,235 80,343 18%

Mount Druitt 125,399 147,220 17%

Hornsby 93,068 109,237 17%

Kiama - Shellharbour 148,873 174,585 17%

Richmond - Windsor 52,638 61,629 17%

Lake Macquarie - East 231,689 269,867 16%

Tamworth - Gunnedah 137,787 160,267 16%

Lake Macquarie - West 149,542 173,380 16%

Port Macquarie 162,635 188,506 16%

Wyong 308,442 357,287 16%

Botany 44,717 51,589 15%

Liverpool 110,238 126,991 15%

Albury 113,406 130,383 15%

Kempsey - Nambucca 96,085 110,199 15%

St Marys 63,997 73,246 14%

Baulkham Hills 138,898 158,963 14%

Auburn 47,443 54,066 14%

Lithgow - Mudgee 78,859 89,800 14%

Richmond Valley - Hinterland

126,642 144,070 14%

Inverell - Tenterfield 70,064 79,670 14%

Sutherland - Menai - Heathcote

130,176 148,012 14%

Wagga Wagga 159,415 180,923 13%

Lower Murray 18,291 20,754 13%

Armidale 55,821 63,272 13%

Pennant Hills - Epping 42,801 48,497 13%

Dubbo 122,137 138,217 13%

Warringah 175,173 198,047 13%

Pittwater 75,648 85,463 13%

Chatswood - Lane Cove 104,602 118,132 13%

Coffs Harbour 154,074 173,780 13%

Campbelltown (NSW) 203,005 228,744 13%

Gosford 295,460 332,913 13%

Canada Bay 75,941 85,456 13%

South Coast 132,884 149,511 13%

Leichhardt 73,838 82,932 12%

Dapto - Port Kembla 134,417 150,806 12%

Blue Mountains 134,526 150,846 12%

Shoalhaven 191,540 214,770 12%

Lachlan Valley 102,142 114,303 12%

Dural - Wisemans Ferry 34,081 38,133 12%

Manly 43,281 48,378 12%

Wollongong 192,234 214,585 12%

Blacktown 145,940 162,694 11%

Eastern Suburbs - North 148,988 165,933 11%

Strathfield - Burwood - Ashfield

133,876 148,842 11%

Sydney Inner City 203,880 226,426 11%

Taree - Gloucester 112,999 125,466 11%

Canterbury 123,347 136,475 11%

North Sydney - Mosman 101,989 112,752 11%

Moree - Narrabri 36,948 40,718 10%

Parramatta 125,506 137,852 10%

Upper Murray exc. Albury 78,126 85,742 10%

Griffith - Murrumbidgee (West)

81,900 89,754 10%

Ku-ring-gai 130,937 143,366 9%

Great Lakes 71,383 78,082 9%

Ryde - Hunters Hill 132,927 145,217 9%

Goulburn - Mulwaree 63,880 69,729 9%

Fairfield 171,586 186,491 9%

Bankstown 180,907 196,611 9%

Richmond Valley - Coastal 134,105 145,611 9%

Tweed Valley 179,679 194,939 8%

Cronulla - Miranda - Caringbah

136,246 147,686 8%

Broken Hill and Far West 44,145 47,663 8%

Southern Highlands 88,346 94,922 7%

Hurstville 119,426 128,182 7%

Eastern Suburbs - South 155,412 166,712 7%

Bourke - Cobar - Coonamble 37,344 39,988 7%

Kogarah - Rockdale 134,634 143,981 7%

Carlingford 68,199 72,330 6%

Merrylands - Guildford 144,894 153,194 6%

Clarence Valley 108,141 113,200 5%

Originally published as Revealed: Which Sydney suburbs are unhappiest



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