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Mental health system failing vulnerable Aussies

1 November 2019 at 12:29 pm
Luke Michael
The Productivity Commission estimates mental illness and suicide is costing Australia up to $180 billion a year 

Luke Michael | 1 November 2019 at 12:29 pm


Mental health system failing vulnerable Aussies
1 November 2019 at 12:29 pm

The Productivity Commission estimates mental illness and suicide is costing Australia up to $180 billion a year 

Up to one million Australians are not getting the help they need for mental health issues and it is costing the economy $500 million a day in lost productivity, according to new research.

The Productivity Commission’s draft report into mental illness said treatment and services were not meeting community expectations, despite one in five Australians experiencing mental ill-health each year.

The report warned that change was needed not only in the health system but also in schools, workplaces, housing and the justice system.

Charities have also used the report’s release on Thursday to call for greater community mental health support and social housing investment.

Productivity Commission chair Michael Brennan said too often mental health was wrongly treated as an add-on to the physical health system.

He said there also needed to be a greater support for young people.

“75 per cent of those who develop mental illness first experience symptoms before they turn 25, and mental ill-health in critical schooling and employment years has long-lasting effects for not only your job prospects but many aspects of your life,” Brennan said.

“Getting help early is key to prevention and better outcomes.”

The commission estimates mental illness and suicide cost Australia up to $180 billion a year.

There are 3.9 million people with mental illness in Australia, but only 2.9 million people are accessing support.

Productivity commissioner Stephen King said: “Too many people still avoid treatment because of stigma, and too many people fall through the gaps in the system because the services they need are not available or suitable.”

The report recommends major systemic reforms focused on closing service gaps, better targeting people’s needs and early intervention and prevention methods.

The commission also said increased support for students and teachers, better community-based services and more health professionals in some parts of the system was needed.

Mental Health Australia acting CEO Melanie Cantwell welcomed the report, and said it had the potential to be a defining moment for systemic mental health and suicide prevention reform.

“The commission has clearly understood the scale and breadth of the challenge to improve the mental health system and said substantial reform of Australia’s mental health system is needed,” Cantwell said.

“For many months we’ve said the Productivity Commission inquiry is a once in a generation opportunity for mental health, and from today we can all make the most of this opportunity, and the many opportunities recommended throughout the draft report.”

The Australian Council of Social Service praised the commission for taking a holistic approach to mental health which examined it in the context of the broader areas such as health, employment, housing and community services.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said she particularly welcomed the commission’s recommendations to prevent people entering homelessness after leaving hospital.

“There are also some strong recommendations in this report around how mental health services are funded and commissioned,” Goldie said.

“We welcome the proposal for longer funding cycles for community mental health services along with the acknowledgment that consumers and carers should be included in all mental health program development.”

Anglicare Australia used the report’s findings to call for the government to address the nation’s social and affordable housing shortage.

Acting executive director Roland Manderson said governments at every level had failed to plan for housing and how it affects mental health.

“The Productivity Commission has made it clear: people with mental illness need stable housing. And right now, our system is falling short,” Manderson said.

“This report has found that housing, psychosocial support, and income support are all crucial to mental wellbeing… These findings should jolt us into action.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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