Before the 2010 election, the Gillard government authorised the Mental Health Commission to draft an overview of the current state of mental health care in Australia. The commission delivered its comprehensive report to Mental Health Minister Mark Butler in November 2012. As part of its investigation, the commission found the infrastructure of Australia’s mental health research was weak, especially in regards to “research and evaluation of services, treatments and programs”. Furthermore, there existed no effective implementation of evidence-based mental health services, possibly as a result of a lack of research funding. To rectify this situation, the commission recommended that the government:

  • Implement regular independent surveys of individuals’ experience of mental health services so as to measure the success of government programs;
  • Increase access to mental health services from 6-8% of the population to 12%;
  • Reduce use of involuntary treatment and restraint of mental health patients;
  • Work with state governments to reduce the early death rate and physical health problems of those affected by mental illness;
  • Specifically address the mental health problems of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
  • Treat the issue of mental health as seriously as healthcare in general;
  • Work to improve the health of families and communities so as to increase resilience to mental health problems;
  • Encourage participation in the workforce of those with mental health issues and aim to match international levels of participation;
  • Ensure that no patient released from mental healthcare was released into a state of homelessness and ensure access to safe accommodation; and
  • Prevent suicide and work to support the mental health of those who attempt suicide.

Labor:

Butler has welcomed the findings of the report, noting the government’s 2011 $2.2 billion mental health reform package has contributed to “good progress with the rollout of headspace youth mental health services, the online mental health portal, the expansion of the Access to Allied Psychological Services program and more personal helpers and mentors”.

The 2011-12 budget committed $1.5 billion over five years to fund the National Mental Health Reform — combined with the 2010-11 commitment of $624 million. Initiatives included the expansion of headspace to 90 sites and funding for an extra 12 early psychosis centres in addition to the four funded in the 2010 budget.

However, prominent mental health advocates, former Australian of the Year Pat McGorry and former mental health advisory council chair John Mendoza, took the government to task earlier this month over the lack of progress on reform, questioning whether the government was focusing too heavily on rolling out the National Disability Insurance Scheme given 10 times as many Australians experience mental health problems.

While new announcements have been few and far between, in April the government announced a $121 million spending boost to pay for 230 personal helpers and mentors to work one-to-one with people with a disability. The personal helper scheme was part of the original $571.3 million set aside under the mental health plan for ‘better coordinated services’ that included the complementary Partners in Recovery program.

The Coalition:

The Coalition remain committed to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s 2010 Real Action Plan for Mental Health. The $1.5 billion plan included 20 early psychosis centres, 800 mental health beds and 60 additional headspace sites. In 2011, Abbott announced an extra $430 million for a back-to-work program if he wins September’s election, bringing the Coalition’s total commitment to $1.93 million.

In its 2010 election platform, the Coalition outlined broad principles for a better mental health care system. An alternative government would:

  • Provide better employment opportunities for the mentally ill;
  • Support the expansion of early psychosis prevention and intervention centres;
  • Encourage greater research into mental health;
  • Create new headspace centres; and
  • Boost outside services that job agencies can provide to clients.

The Greens: 

The Greens have outlined their approach to mental health in their healthcare policy adopted in November 2012:

  • “Adequately funded mental health services, including adequately resourced services for the prevention and early detection of mental illness and suicide, and hospital and community-based assessment and support services”; and
  • “Expanded community-based support services and agencies to enable people with chronic mental and/or physical illnesses, and their carers, to live in and participate more fully in their communities”.

In the lead-up to the last election, the Greens called for a substantial funding injection of “at least $350 million” a year for mental health.

*We’ve updated the PromiseWatch on broadband policy: read the latest policy pronouncements online

Peter Fray

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