In part 12 of Croakey’s election series, SANE Australia calls for the roll out of a properly funded, comprehensive mental health strategy. Executive Director Barbara Hocking compares this to what the ALP and Coalition have offered so far…..
Barbara Hocking writes:
A national mental health strategy must be appropriately funded and implemented – ensuring that everyone who needs help for mental illness will get treatment and support as early as possible, for as long as needed, and in the community where they live.
We need the Federal and State governments to work together more effectively, to ensure that this help is provided as seamlessly as possible. We need cooperation across government departments so that needs such as housing, education, employment and justice are tackled together, not in isolation.
And it is fundamental to acknowledge that investment in mental health services is an essential suicide prevention strategy.
So, what is on offer so far from the two major parties in the 2010 election?
Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has announced the ALP plan: a loose grouping of services under the heading ‘Mental health: taking action to tackle suicide’. It has a price-tag of $277 million over four years. This is welcome news.
However, the annual cost of mental health services is over $4 billion a year, so the new funds equate to a timid increase of under 3% per annum – roughly equivalent to a CPI increase.
Tony Abbott, meanwhile, has announced that the Coalition’s ‘Real Action Plan’ would commit $1.5 billion to mental health over the same period, concentrated on youth services and ‘800 mental health beds’. This is welcome news.
However, the major focus on ‘beds’ betrays an outmoded hospital-oriented mentality, ignoring the fact that mental health services are overwhelmingly provided in the community, and this is where increased funding is also urgently needed.
The vast majority of people with a mental illness rarely go to hospital, and then typically for a few weeks only. It is day-to-day care and support in the community that is required more than anything. The impressive billion-plus figure is also not ‘new’ money, but funds taken away from other health programs which the Coalition would slash, including GP services and the important e-health initiative.
Meanwhile, the Australian Greens’ ‘National Health Plan’, which calls for a Minister for Mental Health and $350 million annually for mental health services is welcome; however, more detail is needed on how the funds would be allocated.
SANE Australia has identified five key areas requiring mental health reform. In each of these, the major parties’ policies have been found wanting:
Vision and leadership – neither party has given convincing evidence yet of vision and leadership on mental health reform.
Clinical services – Both major parties have made welcome commitment to a range of clinical services. Both focus on narrow areas, primarily youth services and ‘more beds’, and need to broaden to adequately fund community-based services helping people of all ages.
Community support – Both parties have supported initiatives in this area, but neither election manifesto recognises that it remains greatly underfunded, ill-coordinated and patchily implemented, especially because of needless Federal/ State complexities in service delivery.
Family and carer support – Both parties’ attitude to family and other carers of people with a mental illness is patronising and inadequate. Neither indicate they are even aware of the value of evidence-based family training.
Community awareness – The ALP has committed to improving awareness where there is a risk of suicide, by funding workplace initiatives and crisis support for Lifeline, for example. There is no commitment to broad improvement in community attitudes, however, as recommended in the National Mental Health Strategy. The Coalition is silent on this issue.
This superficial treatment of mental health concerns in the election run-up is especially frustrating because – as SANE Australia and advocates such as Ian Hickie, Pat McGorry and John Mendoza have repeatedly pointed out – a framework for progress already exists in the Recommendations of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, and the Fourth National Mental Health Plan, both completed in 2009, gathering dust, and still awaiting implementation.
The ALP and Coalition need to show leadership on this issue, including commitment of adequate funding to mental health services in Australia.
We ask them to commit to ‘real action’ to ‘move forward’ promptly on this issue if elected to form the next Government.
Meanwhile, watch this open “letter” to Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott earlier this month. It has been endorsed by 65 health and social organisations, and has a far more powerful impact than any written word.
To see the previous posts in the Croakey election series: