Another Specialised Mental Health Service Axed

The ABC are reporting today that Australia’s only dedicated support service for people with eating disorders is set to be axed next year.

The helpline (1800 ED HOPE/1800 33 4673) and web support run by the Butterfly Foundation assists more than 1,000 people each month but as the federal government continues its shake-up of mental health services, this lifesaving service will only have guaranteed funding for one more year before the government ‘brings together and streamlines access’ to treatment and connects people to services “through a centralised telephone and web portal”.

Christine Morgan, Chief Executive of the Butterfly Foundation, is all too aware of the impact this move will have. “Somebody suffering an eating disorder does not get the appropriate care and counselling if they ring in a general mental health line,” she told the ABC. And Dr Liz Scott, a psychiatrist at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, adds some shattering statistics that emphasise the importance of a targeted service in this area.

“One in 10 people who suffer from an eating disorder are dead within 10 years, and if you think about these disorders affecting young people, that’s a horrifying statistic of something that is potentially preventable.”

Surely we have learnt, after the results of the closure of the Barrett Centre, that any government that axes proven lifesaving specialised youth mental health services – statewide or nationwide (i.e. the only support that exists) – is taking a tragic backward step? And when the ABC is also reporting that a further 20 online services provided by mental health groups – including Lifeline and SANE Australia – are also facing an uncertain future, we must urge our politicians yet again to LISTEN TO THE EXPERTS.

The new mental health gateway/portal may be a positive move in some respects but a one size fits all’ approach to mental health seems likely to see many sufferers fall through the cracks. No one would ever propose the same generic approach for cancer sufferers (different kinds of cancer are treated with different therapeutic interventions – surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy …). So to reduce the options for all mental health sufferers to one generalised service seems likely to disadvantage many, particularly those whose suffering is most severe. Again.

Are we to conclude that those with mental health issues – and specifically young people (who would seem to be the demographic most likely to seek help via the online medium) are so disposable that experts’ warnings can be repeatedly ignored? Again, the cost should be seen as far too great to take the risk. Governments MUST listen. Those at the Foundation that advocates for, and directly supports, Australians experiencing eating disorders say:

“Butterfly calls on the Federal Health Minister and the Shadow Minister for Health to accept their responsibility to people across the country suffering from debilitating mental illness that also seriously impairs physical health – and commit to the necessary funding, services, information and support. The Government needs to guarantee ongoing survival of the national ED HOPE supportline within the new digital gateway environment, and provide a funding boost of $1.5m per annum, to increase capacity to 24/7 and improve its ability to provide online counselling services.”

If you want to add your voice to this important issue as we approach a federal election, you can contact the Health spokespeople for the major parties (see below or on our Get Involved! page). They shouldn’t have to be reminded of the toll of axing vital services in this area. Those affected by such actions in the past will certainly never forget.

Ÿ~

You can contact:

Federal Minister for Health Sussan Ley at Minister.Ley@health.gov.au or on Facebook
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Malcolm.Turnbull.MP@aph.gov.au or on Facebook
Shadow Health Minister Catherine King at Catherine.King.MP@aph.gov.au or on Facebook
Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten at Bill.Shorten.MP@aph.gov.au or on Facebook

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