Mental health deserves national attention but it also needs more national action
Almost half (45%) of all Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime.
1 in 4 clients who received assistance from a specialist homelessness agency in 2015-16 were experiencing a current mental health issue. This is over 72,000 people.
We also know that Australia’s younger generation are increasingly talking about mental health as an issue of great importance. In fact, for the first time in the 15 year history of our Youth Survey 2016, mental health made a resounding arrival into the top three national concerns according to young people.
It is encouraging that concerns around mental health are being discussed in politics, in the media and in the broader community.
The Minister for Health Greg Hunt added his voice when he was sworn in in January – announcing that mental health will be one of his key priorities.
While this is positive news, I am concerned that in the transition to NDIS, some people experiencing mental illness who are in need of community mental health programs to assist their recovery will miss out on these valuable supports. This is because people who experience episodic and/or moderate mental illness may not meet NDIS criteria.
This includes some people currently accessing the Personal Helpers and Mentors (PHaMs) program, which is funded by the Department of Social Services, and has demonstrated significant improvements in wellbeing. However some clients will not be eligible for the NDIS and may not have access to programs like PHaMs outside of the NDIS unless current issues are resolved.
These changes will negatively impact recovery for people experiencing mental illness by reducing the services and supports available to them. Clients who lose these supports will receive little or no help to prevent their situation reaching crisis level. Numerous people experiencing psychological and mental distress may not receive early intervention supports. The repercussions can be catastrophic.
It is incredibly important that the Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments resolve issues around future funding, program and governance arrangements for both the NDIS and mental health systems, so that people living with a mental illness can continue to receive vital support services when they need it.
Yesterday, in our submission to the Parliamentary Committee on the NDIS, we called on the government to provide long-term and sustainable funding to ensure that adequate community supports are provided outside the NDIS – for people living with mental health concerns, but who are ineligible for NDIS funding.
If we do not speedily resolve the issue, we will see a rise in the number of people with mental illness in the community with no support. This will have flow-on impacts for other government-funded service systems including homelessness, education and criminal justice.
As we speak up about mental health, it’s important that we continue to provide the services that work, to the people who need it. Mental health absolutely deserves national attention, but more importantly, it needs more national action.
Our full submission to the Parliamentary Committee can be read here.
^Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association – Mental Health Policy Position Paper (2015).
CEO Mission Australia