Calls for Immediate Action to Improve Health Outcomes for People With Mental Illness
26 July 2017 at 3:28 pm
More than 50 mental health organisations have pledged to improve the physical health and wellbeing of people living with mental illness, amid claims the life-expectancy of Australians with a mental illness is 14-23 years less than the general population.
Speaking at the launch of the Equally Well statement, National Mental Health Commission chairman Professor Allan Fels called on the federal, state and local governments to improve the physical health and wellbeing of people living with mental illness.
The statement, signed by 53 mental health organisations, said mental health and wellbeing was “a basic human right often denied to many Australians”.
“People living with mental illness have poorer physical health, yet they receive less and lower quality health care than the rest of the population – and die younger,” the statement said.
Fels said people with a mental illness were twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease, a respiratory disease, a metabolic syndrome, diabetes and osteoporosis. They are 65 per cent more likely to smoke and six times more likely to have dental problems.
“The Equally Well Statement challenges the low expectations that pervade the health system in terms of health outcomes for people with serious mental illness,” he said.
“Not only can people with mental illnesses benefit from evidence-based interventions, just like everyone else, but more fundamentally, they have the same right to high-quality appropriate health care as everyone else.”
The statement asks organisations to sign the pledge to improve the physical health of people living with mental illness by delivering:
- a holistic, person centred approach to physical and mental health and wellbeing;
- effective promotion, prevention and early intervention;
- equity of access to all services;
- improved quality of health care;
- care coordination and regional integration across health, mental health and other services and sectors which enable a contributing life; and
- monitoring of progress towards improved physical health and wellbeing.
Minister for Health Greg Hunt said he welcomed the release of the Equally Well statement.
“The Commonwealth government recognises that people with a mental illness often have poor outcomes in terms of their physical health and we’re committed to changing this unacceptable situation,” he said.
“As part of our mental health reforms, we’ve begun work with the Primary Health Networks, state and territory governments and service providers to ensure meaningful action is taken to improve the physical health of people with a mental illness and reduce the gap in life expectancy.”
Fels also said the National Disability Insurance Scheme needed “radical review” to adequately cater to the needs of Australians with a psychosocial disability.
Fels said the NDIS was a “good thing and mental health should be included” but warned more than 200,000 Australians could miss out on “much needed psychosocial support” because they were not deemed eligible.
“Bear in mind that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data show there are about 700,000 people with severe or psychotic mental illness.
“The initial estimate was that 64,000 people with psychosocial disability would qualify to receive Individually Funded Packages (IFPs) by full rollout in 2019-20. The Department of Health has estimated that it’s more like 92,000 people.
“However, the commission thinks that both of these figures vastly underestimate the number of individuals with mental illness who need psychosocial support, and that there may be up to or more than 200,000 people who will miss out on much needed psychosocial support because they will be deemed as not eligible under the NDIS.
Fels said mental health was a “weak point” in Australia’s health system.
“More people need to get in,” he said.
“Equally worrying is the fate of large numbers of people who are deemed to qualify at best for a lower tier of support. There are grave fears as to whether they will receive any significant support at all and we deeply fear many people will fall into a big hole between the NDIS scheme and mental health schemes.”
Fels said there was “a big risk” mental health would become the “poor cousin of the scheme” and would be squeezed between an imperfect NDIS and a contracting mental health system.
Fels called on the Productivity Commission to put mental health “as an important part of the economic reform agenda”.
“As to the total cost to the Australian health system of physical illness for people living with severe mental illness it has been estimated at $15 billion per annum (about 1 per cent of GDP). That includes the cost of health care, lost productivity and other social costs,” Fels said.
To sign up to the Equally Well statement visit www.equallywell.org.au.