As you may have heard from various news reports, Professor John Mendoza has resigned as Chair of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health. The Council was established in 2008 as an election commitment to advise Government on mental health issues “as requested by the Commonwealth Minister for Health and Ageing”.

Last month Croakey published Mendoza’s damning critique of the Federal Government’s efforts in mental health.

His 18 June resignation letter to Minister Nicola Roxon, which was posted on the web today by The Sunday Age, follows below:

Dear Minister

It is with deep sense of disappointment that I tender my resignation from the National Advisory Council on Mental Health. Whilst the discussions between you and the Council on 27 May in Canberra were frank and open, I feel that the future efforts of the Council will be enhanced if I now step down as Chair. It was clear from your comments that you have lost confidence in the Council under my stewardship. Further the Council’s correspondence to you following the 27 May meeting seeking a way forward has not been answered. Therefore, as Chair I must act accordingly.

Undertaking the role of Chair without an institutional basis of support and the continuation of secretariat support from within Mental Health Division of the Department of Health and Ageing make it extremely difficult to be effective in the role. As I and the other members of Council have repeatedly indicated to you, the Council is seriously compromised in its stated mandate to provide timely, independent advice to the Government.

Two years ago when we first met to develop the work plan for the Council you requested we develop a vision for mental health, a framework for accountability, proposals to improve the Commonwealth’s current mental health investments and specific proposals for new investments based on evidence and (with emphasis) consumer and carer views. The Council has also responded to the requests for advice on the revised National Mental Health Policy,the 4th National Mental Health Plan, the revised National Mental Health Service Standards, the Better Access Program and the ATAPS program. All those requests were met.

However, it is now abundantly clear that there is no vision or commitment from the Rudd Government to mental health. While significant improvements have been made in disability employment policy and to a lesser extent in housing and community services, there is no evidence of a change in policy or investment in mental health. The Rudd Government is publicly claiming credit for the increased investment in mental health when almost all of this is a consequence of the work of the Howard Government.

As the report released yesterday by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and the report released two weeks ago by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare highlight ‘Australia’s prisons are the repositories of the mentally ill, the drug and alcohol-addicted and the under-educated’. This is not new information but yet another confirmation of the failure of government policy in relation to the provision of mental health services.

The AIHW hospital data released this week also shows that unlike almost every other area of health, the number of hospital beds for mental health are declining by an average of almost 4% a year.

People from lower income groups experience higher rates of suicide, have even poorer access to any mental health care, are imprisoned (often repeatedly) rather than provided mental health care and face far greater social exclusion than other Australians. People with serious mental illness are among the most vulnerable of all Australians. Yet the Rudd Labor Government has ignored their need for investment in services now.

I regarded my appointment as chair of NACMH as the most importantpublic service responsibility of my life. However, I have now formed the view that my efforts to influence the development of improved mental health services and end the shameful neglect of those with a mental health disorders will be better served in other roles.

My resignation is effective immediately.

Yours faithfully

John Mendoza

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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