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State Government responses to World Mental Health Day motion

Speeches in Parliament
Penny Wright 6 Feb 2013

This motion relates to documents received from the governments of Western Australia and New South Wales in response to the Senate motion on World Mental Health Day, 10 October, last year. The motion, co-sponsored by me as mental health spokesperson for the Australian Greens and by Senator Moore, noted this important date and highlighted the fact that one in five Australians will experience a mental illness in any given year. The motion highlighted the responsibility we all share, both governments and the community, to provide services and support and to reduce the stigma for those who experience mental ill health. With this in mind, I welcome the responses received from the governments of Western Australia and New South Wales acknowledging this shared responsibility.

Mental illness now accounts for 13 per cent of the burden of disease in Australia but this is still not reflected in the amount as a nation that we spend. Despite a growing awareness in the Australian community that most of us will be touched by mental illness or mental ill health during our lifetimes, whether it be ourselves or our loved ones or colleagues or friends, mental health remains significantly underfunded in our health system. As a nation we still only spend about seven per cent of the total health budget-about half of the proportion that should be invested commensurate with the burden of disease in treating and supporting those who experience mental ill health and in promoting strong mental health and wellbeing.

Mental disorders constitute the leading cause of disability burden in Australia, accounting for an estimated 24 per cent of the total years lost due to disability. The effects of poor mental health, mental disorders and mental illness are devastating personally for those experience that ill health and in terms of productivity and social wellbeing. As identified in the extensive 2011 study of 1,825 Australians, People living with psychotic illness, people experiencing psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have significant difficulty in looking after themselves. They experience high rates of loneliness and isolation, and die on average 25 years younger than other Australians due to high rates of suicide, self-harm, obesity and smoking, and chronic physical diseases, which are undertreated, like diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular disease. According to the Inspire Foundation's report, Counting the cost: the impact of young men's mental health on the Australian community, mental illness in young men aged between 12 and 25 costs the Australian economy $3.27 billion per annum, or $387,000 per hour across a year, in lost productivity. Australia loses over nine million working days per annum to young men with mental illness. Young men with mental illness have much lower rates of educational attainment compared to their peers, further limiting their skills development and reducing their long-term earning potential by $559 million a year. Yet, as a community, we pay one way or another because the federal government bears 31 per cent of this cost via direct health costs, disability welfare payments, unemployment benefits and the direct costs of imprisonment.

Rural mental health is also an area in which there is significant underinvestment. Over the last year, I have been travelling throughout rural Australia meeting and talking and listening to people and organisations across the states who have experience of mental ill health and the services that are available to them. The prevalence of mental ill health in rural, regional and remote Australia is similar to that in urban areas, but the consequences are often much worse because of fewer services, difficulty in accessing those services and the greater visibility and stigma that is associated with seeking help in small communities. In many places, I heard about significant community initiatives that need support where there has been need and a response to need, helping to keep people participating and thriving in small communities, but I have also heard too often about crisis driven systems of care where people have to be extensively unwell and at risk of serious self-harm or deterioration before they are able to access any services at all.

Recently, we have seen the start of long-overdue reforms to our health system to address mental illness more effectively and to promote robust mental health and wellbeing. We have made a start, but there is so much more to do. The Senate's World Mental Health Day motion recognised the roles to be played by both the national government and the states in developing programs to improve the lot of people who experience mental illness on a daily basis.

As a community, we must be willing to spend what is needed to provide timely and effective treatment as early as possible-services like housing, employment and education, which support functioning and participation for people who are experiencing mental ill health; assistance to carers and families; reduction in stigma and discrimination against people who experience ill health through absolutely no fault or choice of their own; the promotion of good mental health and wellbeing; and the nurturing of the organisations and structures across the community that contribute to resilient communities and greater national wellbeing in mental health.

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