Last week’s release of the Albany Community Foundation’s Vital Signs report was the culmination of more than a year’s work collating information about the community. As the first report of its kind looking specifically at Albany, it aims to serve a baseline for future report and a catalyst for change. Earlier in the project’s development, four themes most relevant to the Albany community were identified — health and resilience, housing and financial stress, belonging and education and employment. In a four-week series, the Advertiser will dive deeper into each section by talking to those involved in focus groups leading discussions to address potential causes of social issues. The Vital Signs’ data has been designed to promote further discussion among the community and its leaders reports. Health and Resilience While many issues relating to the health and resilience of the Albany community can be anecdotally well known, there was still plenty of data found during the project which surprised headspace Albany manager Andrew Wenzel. Mr Wenzel said it had been difficult to condense the data on to one page which meant mostly looking to include the pieces of information that would make people go “wow”. “Often in health that’s not ‘wow, that’s awesome’ it’s ‘wow, we could be doing better’,” he said. He pointed towards waning vaccination rates which had led to a doubling in the number of reports of vaccine-preventable diseases from 2015 to 2019 when compared to 2011 to 2015. “We are actually seeing a return of completely preventable infectious diseases and, in fact, diseases which could be eradicated,” he said. “I don’t know whether that’s because generationally people now haven’t seen people die from diseases like measles or polio and have lost that thought that it’s important to be vaccinated.” ACF board member James Leiper said he was surprised by the high prevalence of chronic health conditions within Albany’s population. Data from the 2021 census show 37 per cent of Albany residents live with at least one chronic condition, which was 5 per cent higher than the Australian-wide figure and 7 per cent higher than WA and regional WA. “But when you actually think about it, it makes sense because we are a region with a really high health care standard and a lot of providers, plus we have an older demographic,” Mr Leiper said. “Our biggest employment sectors are health care and social assistance (16.5 per centre of the workforce) and I think that’s a bit of a positive for the region because it becomes a bit of a drawcard.” More than 30 per cent of Albany’s population was over the age of 60 at the 2021 census, compared to 24 per cent for WA. “If you are living with a chronic condition, access to care is something you consider when you think about where you want to live,” Mr Wenzel said. “All services should be available for everyone, everywhere, but we know that realistically the economic feasibility of putting a nuclear medicine facility in Tambellup just doesn’t add up.” Given his work in the sector, Mr Wenzel was not surprised to see more people had been seeking support for mental health conditions, but he said there were still key differences between those that did so. He said younger people were still more likely to seek help and that women were still “far more likely to come forward than men”. “Yet looking at measures of psychological stress, men are probably still carrying a higher level of stress as a gender than women do,” he said. “Maybe that is because of the stereotypical gender role around how men are, particularly men in regional and remote Australia. “We don’t talk about feelings, we toughen up because we are doers not talkers, and ‘I should be able to get through this if I just push on hard enough’.” Another statistic in the report that could be cause for concern was that 27 per cent of Great Southern residents aged over 18 reported have more than two standard drinks per day on average. The figure is about 9 per cent higher that the WA average (18.2 per cent). Mr Leiper said they had “grappled” with whether to include it in the report because it had been difficult to figure out the best wording. “We didn’t end up including another couple of stats that we were playing around with in that area,” he said. “One of them was on vaping because those stats are scary at the moment, there are so many young people choosing to vape even though they don’t know what the health risks are. “We also played around with putting in some stats about non-alcoholic drink consumption because, as much as the stat about alcohol consumption in the report is alarming, there is a rise in non-alcoholic drink consumption.” Mr Wenzel said Australians could end up following a European trend towards having non-alcoholic beers on taps and non-alcoholic venues, but for the time-being there continued to be a stigma about choosing not to drink alcohol. “Even at the presentation of the report the other night there were a couple of comments as I sat down about me being a killjoy,” he said. “I’m just reporting the data though … I acknowledge that alcohol is a big part of our society, but that doesn’t have to mean we have to use alcohol in an unhealthy way. “It’s still inseparably interwoven into things like sport where it can be really hard to be a non-drinker.” Mr Leiper said he was also shocked by the family violence figures outlined in the report which showed there had been 818 reports of family violence within the Great Southern police district when considered against a population of 100,000. “Not just the rate it’s increasing but also the numbers,” he said. “These are just the ones that are reported to the police, and that’s a lot of instances and is pretty scary.” Mr Wenzel said he hoped the report would help better track trends within the community and make people think about their own personal choices. “If it gets more men talking about their mental health that would be great too, especially if they are talking to other men about their mental health,” he said. Mr Leiper agreed one of the biggest positives that could come from the report’s health and resilience section would be people taking ownership for their lifestyle choices. “You can see the stuff is all pretty in your face there, and you can know that you aren’t alone if you are experiencing poor mental health and you can seek support in that space,” he said. The full report can be found on the ACF website.