Mental Health issues facing Australia

Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise this evening to bring to houses attention a very important issue in the electorate of Bonner and indeed the wider Australian community – that is the issue of mental health.

When I am talking with my Bonner constituents when I am out and about in the electorate I have observed a very definite trend emerging. Increasingly my constituents are concerned about mental health and the impacts it has not only on their own lives but on the lives of their families and friends.
Almost half the nation’s population (45 %) will experience a mental health disorder at some point in their life.

One of the big problems facing mental health treatment in Australia is that so often mental health is categorized too simply as a condition in and of itself. In talking to several interest groups in my electorate it has become clear this over simplification hides the true complexity surrounding the issue.

Another significant challenge that faces these local mental health oriented community groups in Bonner is that of funding. I have been told again and again about the enormous struggle that these smaller groups face in accessing funding mechanisms that allow them to grow and continue to operate at a grass routes basis with the help of hard working, committed volunteers. Far from the large scale funding grants available to larger established organisations, I have observed that smaller groups and support networks can do a lot of impactful community work with limited money.

These groups make a significant impact on the lives of those experiencing mental health issues but I have frequently witnesses their frustration at the lack of infrastructure that would help them develop their outreach further.

Recent studies have found that 1 in 5 people will experience some form of mental illness in any given year. Yet only one third of sufferers receive help from health services – a staggering 65 percent of sufferers battle their disorder alone or with only family assistance.

So what can be done to assist these groups in their operations? What strategies will better assist the smaller organisations at a grassroots level to overcome the increasing challenges facing the community in relation to mental health?

Mr Deputy Speaker, mental health care is at a critical juncture. Genuine reform and real action is needed to provide improved access to care, better long term outcomes for patients and more efficient use of resources.
As Health Minister in the Howard Coalition Government, Tony Abbott oversaw the biggest single injection of funding into mental health services. $1.9 billion was provided in 2006 for the following five years.

The time to tackle mental illness is when it first occurs. The prevalence of mental health problems declines with age. It is our younger Australians – those between 16 and 24 – who bear the brunt of mental illness. Evidence shows that with early and targeted treatment many young people can overcome their problems and lead socially and economically productive lives with lower incidence of progression or relapse.

Delay in accessing appropriate treatment can be damaging for a young person, particularly during adolescence. Maturity can be delayed, social and family relationships can be strained and employment prospects are derailed.

Secondary problems such as substance abuse, unemployment and behavioural problems may develop or intensify and the illness itself may become more deeply entrenched. That is why it is so crucial that volunteers on the ground have access to adequate support in order to achieve their local operational goals.

The Coalition’s Real Action Plan for Better Mental Health includes those support structures vital to achieving local and nation wide objectives. 20 early Psychosis intervention centres, 800 mental health beds and 60 additional youth headspace sites across the country will assist those already founded networks in accessing quality mental health services.

The Coalition’s Direct Action Plan for Better Mental Health is fully funded and builds on existing mental health funding provided in the previous Budget. The Coalition will also redirect funding away from new bureaucratic structures proposed by Labor to provide additional funding directly to front-line mental health services. These are important steps that need to be taken in order to achieve real impacting change to Australian mental health.

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