In a stroke of incredible timing, the Insight show on SBS tonight had an impressive selection of mental heath experts, consumers and carers to weigh up the mental health election policies of Labor and the Coalition.
Surely it couldn’t have been a complete coincidence that the PM today announced funding for suicide prevention measures, and requirements for Medicare Locals and Local Hospital Networks to report on the performance of mental health services. (Her full speech, which also canvasses broader health issues, is here.)
The overall consensus at Insight was that the Coalition’s mental heath policies deserved higher marks, and that this would prove an electoral winner for them. GetUp, which has made mental health one of its four top election issues, said its polling showed the Coalition policy was rating well.
Even Senator Rachel Siewert from the Greens plumped for the Coalition’s policy as the best major party policy “at the moment”.
The former NSW Liberals leader and director of Lifeline, John Brogden, was one of the few arguing the case for the Government, in the wake of its pledge of extra funds for Lifeline. “I’d be very happy to endorse any political party that supports Lifeline,” he said.
Meanwhile, here are some of the other comments:
John Mendoza, who resigned last month as chair of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health, said the Opposition policy was streets ahead of Labor’s, in promising an investment that numbered in the billion dollar range, rather than the millions. As well, the Coalition aimed to build a whole new service structure for young people, while the Government had taken a “scatter gun approach” that lacked clear vision or direction, and cherry picked easy targets. The Labor verus Coalition policy was like comparing an “old clunker” to a “brand new vehicle”. But he qualified this: “What the Opposition is offering is a modest small car to take us forward.”
Professor Pat McGorry said the Government had not really announced a mental health policy but a “suicide prevention policy with a few additional issues”. “It’s one brick in the wall,” he said. He believes that PM Gillard is “sincere” in saying she would make mental health a priority if re-elected, but doubts this could happen without far bigger investment. He and other mental health experts had presented the Government with a very clear plan of things they could move on immediately, without waiting for COAG or other governmental machinations.
But some of the most insightful comments came from consumers and carers, who talked of the lack of support for carers, and for people from non-Anglo cultural backgrounds, appalling waiting times for supported accommodation (one mother caring for her adult son had been told of a 12-year wait – 12 years!), and who called for support for community initiatives instead of a focus on medical models.
John Mendoza let rip at the the Government’s failure to ensure its massive investment in social housing also included provision for supported accommodation. Efforts to achieve this were buck-passed between state and federal governments and various departments and amounted to “policy laziness”. “We need leadership,” he said. “I am tired of the opportunities that continue to be lost in government.”
Pat McGorry described a program in Queabeyan that had resulted in 22 new purpose built units for people with serious mental illness who had been homeless. Why couldn’t this be rolled out across the country?
The comment of the night
For this viewer, the most telling comment came from Glen, who had clearly survived many difficult years, including psychosis and time in jail. He now sells the Big Issue. Asked what would have helped, he replied “work opportunity”.
Mental health and health services more broadly are important for improving the lives of the mentally ill. But they are only one part of a much bigger picture, and we don’t spend enough time talking about the rest of that picture.
But perhaps Pat McGorry, who has met with the PM, was hinting that he knows more than he’s letting on about the Government’s plans. When asked who would get his vote, he said something like: “It’s not over yet; we’ve got to see some more action on that front.” Which suggests he knows something more is to come (or that he was dodging the question).
Why on earth wasn’t Minister Roxon on the show? No doubt she has a frantic election schedule to juggle and perhaps Insight isn’t judged a crucial vote-swinger. But her failure to present on this issue on this day reflects badly.
Meanwhile, for more reaction to the Government’s announcement:
• A general wrap from ProBonoNews
• A positive comment from the Mental Health Council of Australia
The AMA also put out a press release but for some reason their website is not available just now so I will put up the link later. (here)
More focus on young children, please
Meanwhile, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, the Australian Psychological Society, NIFTeY (National Investment for the Early Years), the Australian Infant, Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health Association, the Australian Association of Infant Mental Health and the Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network recently launched Our Children Our Future, a blueprint for infant and child mental health services in Australia.
United as the Children’s Mental Health Coalition, the organisations are recommending mental health services for children from early life and are urging the Australian government to:
• Increase mental health funding for children (0-12 years)
• Invest in prevention and intervention early in life
• Establish Kids Life Centres