Mental health scores unprecedented budget spend
8 October 2020 at 8:13 am
But advocates say the government missed the mark on delivering the recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into mental health
The back-to-back bushfire and coronavirus disasters of 2020 have seen the mental health of Australians under more strain than ever.
And in this year’s federal budget, it’s something that the Morrison government committed to addressing.
“Through this budget, we are continuing to ensure that support is available,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said during his budget speech on Tuesday.
Over the course of 2020-21, the federal government will spend an unprecedented $5.7 billion on mental health. The biggest measure – costing more than $100 million – will be the doubling of annual Medicare-subsidised sessions with a psychologist, from 10 to 20 sessions.
Mental health support services including Lifeline, Beyond Blue and Kids Helpline will also get an additional $7 million to help them cope with increased demand in Victoria, and $5 million will go towards support services targeting people with eating disorders, new parents, and diverse communities.
An extra $45.7 million was also announced to help young people participate in the workforce, and for former members of defence forces an additional $102 million will be available for increased access to support services.
The missing piece
During his speech, Frydenberg said that in the coming weeks, the government would release the Productivity Commission’s Mental Health final report and the interim report into suicide prevention commissioned by the prime minister.
Advocacy groups said that not using the recommendations of the final report was “disappointing”.
Some of the key recommendations from the Commission’s draft 2019 report included community-based mental health services delivered within regions, access to ongoing support for people with complex mental illness, and investment in evidence-based psychosocial support.
Alison Verhoeven, CEO of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, said she urged the government to “go hard and go now”, in the interests of building a more efficient and accessible mental health system.
“The challenges will be severe as people try to deal with job losses and economic insecurity, which can lead to emotional insecurity and ongoing mental health issues. The cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker will only compound these problems, which are likely to be long-term for many,” Verhoeven said.
SANE Australia deputy CEO Dr Michelle Blanchard told Pro Bono News that while doubling Medicare-subsidised sessions was positive, this would not be enough for people with complex mental health issues.
“The recommended course of treatment is really 40 sessions or more, so this certainly needs to be an alternative option to provide that level of care and support for people affected by complex mental health issues,” Blanchard said.
She said that until the Productivity Commission’s report was tabled in parliament, it was important to continue listening to the voices of those with lived experience of mental illness.
“People who experience complex mental health issues are telling us that they need intensive support, and we need to listen,” she said.
Our 2020 budget coverage is brought to you by Bendigo Bank