2016 Mental Health Policy: M.I.A

A BLOG POST

When Professor Pat McGorry (Executive Director, Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health and former Australian of the Year) addressed the National Press Club in the lead-up to the election with a presentation asserting that our governments have been Missing in Action, we would have expected that our politicians would respond immediately. Not just to redress the gaping hole in campaigning that has been the discussion on mental ill-health, but to commit to rectify the horrendous disparity between mental healthcare and medical healthcare policies, funding and services.

Currently 7% of the federal health budget is assigned to mental health but mental illness makes up 13.6% of Australia’s total burden of disease.

How can an issue that affects everyone, weakens the economy … and is the best value for money across the whole of the healthcare system – that’s what the World Economic Forum tells us (OECD), one where Australian science and innovation has brought dramatic progress within reach and one that’s been at the absolute forefront of public discourse and election commitments at every single election over the last decade – how could it have disappeared from view?

Professor Patrick McGorry

Mental health issues create one of the major drains on the Australian population. There are 12,000 deaths a year in this country attributable to mental illness and countless lives in states from impairment to purgatory due to issues that are treatable – to the point of substantial recovery or lifetime management.

But, until yesterday’s Labor campaign launch, there has been only silence. And Bill Shorten’s announcement that Labor would fund suicide prevention projects and keep Headspace centres open is nowhere near enough when any government should be doubling its investment in mental healthcare.

The need is glaring. The expertise exists. But our politicians can’t find the money, the compassion – or the votes – to commit to doing what can be done to save thousands of Australian lives.

It’s been 10 days since Professor McGorry’s call to action and our Prime Minister has found all sorts to talk about during that time. He has found money for baseball parks, roads and business startups. But nothing to address the chasm that is mental healthcare in Australia. And in the Opposition Leader’s raft of promises, mental health rates only a brief mention. Mr Turnbull visited a Headspace centre in his own electorate – but did he take the opportunity to announce a long overdue turnaround in government support for this area of such desperate need? No. In fact, yesterday the Daily Telegraph reported that: Life-saving youth mental health services are being quietly dismantled by the Turnbull Government, leaving thousands of teenagers at greater risk of suicide. Those very Headspace centres that our PM strolled through on his way to announce funding for upgrading the Puffing Billy tourist train are now at risk as PHNs take over funding responsibility and Headspace’s national office budget will fall from $19 million to $8 million per annum next year, and $5 million the following year under the coalition.

It’s not like there haven’t been periods of public discourse about mental illness in recent years – statements about overcoming the stigma (an important goal) are quite regular. But when a government says there should be a parity of understanding and yet declines to match those words with servicesprograms and funding, how can anyone expect mental illness to be seen as anything other than something to be swept under the carpet? Such a huge part of mental ill-health is shame, self-loathing and then social isolation. If any one of our politicians felt a fragment of what someone with a mental health condition feels – or had a family member enduring the torment of mental illness – they would do whatever needed to be done to combat this plague.

But they are worse than silent. They make gestures. And gestures are what people do to those they want to go away.

In his Press Club address, Professor McGorry urged us to demand more of our politicians as they attempt to win us over with electioneering i.e.

– EXPECT A REAL PLAN

– DON’T BE SHORT-CHANGED

– USE YOUR VOICE AND VOTE

All I would add would be to use your voice for more than just voting. …

Now is the time to SPEAK OUT

WATCH PAT MCGORRY’S ADDRESS AND SHARE THE LINK

Then “use your voice” …

– with your friends and communities, in your workplaces and social activities. And when you do, remember that you’re doing what so many will mental health issues can’t do. You’re going where they can’t go. So make the most of what you have to bring an end to the isolation that others are experiencing.

– take to social media to demand all our politicians commit to expanding Headspace – including the Early Psychosis Programs, commit decisively to redressing the mental healthcare funding inequity with greater investment in programs that work so that more Australians can have access to treatment that can change their lives and those of their families.

If you don’t tell your candidates and the party leaders what you expect, how will they ever know? And if you don’t get the response you think the Australian people deserve, use your vote to reflect your dissatisfaction. Now is the time to use your voice and encourage all your friends, colleagues, Facebook and Twitter followers to do the same.

To take this stand is something to be proud of in an Australia where the politicians’ attitude to mental healthcare is a national disgrace. If we don’t stand up now, who knows what – or who – will be gone tomorrow.

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