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Mental health budget reflects the struggle of the last 12 months

12 May 2021 at 11:23 am
Nikki Stefanoff
Last night’s budget saw the largest ever mental health investment by a Commonwealth government

Nikki Stefanoff | 12 May 2021 at 11:23 am


Mental health budget reflects the struggle of the last 12 months
12 May 2021 at 11:23 am

Last night’s budget saw the largest ever mental health investment by a Commonwealth government

Support for additional mental health facilities, suicide prevention programs, digital mental health services and an update to the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy were all announced in last night’s budget. 

During his speech, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced $2.3 billion in mental health funding and flagged mental health investment as a clear national priority. Noting that suicide is the leading cause of death in Australians aged 18 to 44. 

“Everybody listening tonight knows someone struggling with their mental health,” Frydenberg said.

“Tragically, over 65,000 of our fellow Australians attempt to take their own lives each year. These are not just statistics on a page but family, friends and colleagues.”

Alongside a new National Suicide Prevention Office and the establishment of a Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide was a new Head to Health national network of 40 centres. 

Highlights of the budget included:  

  • $31.2 million to pilot a national Distress Intervention program and to develop accreditation and  standards for safe spaces
  • $46.6 million for parenting programs
  • $79 million to implement key initiatives under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy
  • $3.1 million to boost the peer support workforce and offer up to 390 peer work scholarships 
  • $117.2 million for a national database focusing on service delivery, performance and outcomes. 

During his speech, Frydenberg announced support for more Headspace centres and an expansion of the model to those aged over 25.

Headspace CEO Jason Trethowan welcomed the announcement. He said that the budget was an acknowledgment of the work Headspace does to offer a safe and trusted entry point for young people seeking help. 

“The past 12 months have no doubt been some of the most difficult for many young people. It’s not surprising that we’ve seen an increase in need across all parts of the mental health system,” Trethowan said.

He said that while it was promising to see more young people reaching out for support, the workforce simply isn’t available to meet their needs.

“We welcome the government’s commitment to strengthen workforce and governance arrangements by increasing the number of nurses, psychologists, and allied health practitioners in mental health settings through scholarships and clinical placements,” he said. 

More communities will soon have access to youth mental health services with Frydenberg also announcing upgrades of existing headspace satellite services in communities and 10 new Headspace centres to grow the Headspace network to 164 locations and support more young people closer to home.

“We know increased investment in early intervention is key to supporting young people’s mental health. We commend the federal government for its continued commitment to mental health in Australia and their trust in Headspace as a safe and inclusive space for all young people,” Trethowan said.

Post COVID-19 support

Mission Australia CEO James Toomey said that while they were encouraged by the government’s investment in supporting mental health he hoped to see that support continue post-pandemic.

“Even before COVID-19, the prevalence of mental health concerns among young Australians was profoundly concerning,” Toomey said. 

“Although a significant amount of funding has been devoted to mental health in response to COVID-19, ongoing need is anticipated and funding must keep up with demand. The estimated investment needed to address the immediate impacts of COVID-19 on Australia’s mental health and contribute to the longer-term task of ongoing national mental health reform is $3.7 billion over four years,” he said. 

A commitment to mental health and suicide prevention

The budget announcement was welcomed by Beyond Blue chair, Julia Gillard AC, who said that the universal aftercare package was a significant investment that, subject to state and territory co-investment, would provide crucial support to everybody who is discharged from hospital after a suicide attempt. 

“This is something Beyond Blue and many others have advocated for over many years,” Gillard said. 

Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman agreed and thanked the government for extending Beyond Blue’s core funding for four years. 

“This is a substantial down payment to begin to build a mental health system for all,” Harman said.  

“We are extremely thankful for the certainty provided by the government’s commitment to support our core work through to 2025, which means we can plan ahead with greater confidence in serving the community.”

Nikki Stefanoff  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Nikki Stefanoff is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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