Mental Health

Chairman of beyondblue Jeff Kennett said today’s announcement by the Turnbull Government is a defining moment for mental health care in Australia and he commends Health Minister Sussan Ley for having the courage to instigate structural reform by dismantling a badly-integrated system in favour of building a regional one that works for people closer to home, wherever they live in Australia.

“It’s about time someone had the guts and foresight to overhaul the system to focus on the needs of people rather than providers. We need to get the maximum bang for our buck by spending taxpayers’ dollars where they have the greatest impact.

This is exactly the kind of leadership we need to help the three million people who at any one time have depression or anxiety, and the hundreds of people who attempt to take their lives or the seven who die by suicide every day in Australia – and their families.

Today’s theme of national leadership with a focus on regional planning and delivery is broadly what individuals and families have been demanding, and what the National Mental Health Commission has recommended.

Although while still silent on detail, beyondblue supports in principle the Government’s redirection of funds to the Primary Health Networks (PHNs) because they are best placed to understand local needs, and to deliver and monitor performance and outcomes for their communities. The introduction of low-intensity early intervention services is extremely welcome and beyondblue’s successful NewAccess program proves this works. We look forward to assisting the PHNs in any way we can.

However, we do have some reservations about the level of support the PHNs will need to help them adjust to their rapidly increasing responsibilities. This will demand exemplary governance and having people with personal experience of mental illness and suicide at the table to ensure they understand the complexities of mental health issues in their communities.

beyondblue has long articulated the need for a single and easy entry point to the system for people with mental health conditions. Today, knowing where to start too often depends on who you know. We think using technology and a central phone line is essential. We look forward to hearing more about how the new mental health digital gateway will direct people to the help they need promptly and compassionately.
Everyone in Australia should know who to phone or where to go to get help if the need arises, just as they know what to do if they have a physical injury or illness. It should be exactly the same for mental health problems.

We also applaud the greater focus on protecting and building resilience in children. In particular, we are encouraged by the move to replace the current myriad of school mental health programs by a single initiative serving the early years through to high school to end confusion for teachers and parents.

We congratulate the Government on its new approach to suicide prevention and the commitment of additional funds to provide team-based support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are at greater risk of psychological distress and suicide than the broader Australian community. beyondblue’s Way Back Support Service trial, which supports people who are released from hospital following a suicide attempt, is proving to be very successful and we look forward to working with all tiers of government and the PHNs to see how well this would fit into a stepped care model.

Finally, we commend the Government’s commitment to addressing stigma as a barrier to people getting help.

We look forward to seeing the detail on all the recommendations and we stand ready and willing to help deliver this innovative and ground-breaking reform package.