Mental Health Reform: action and resources needed now…

Mental Health Reform: action and resources needed now…

MH heads

Baptistcare (WA) welcomes the release of the National Mental Health Commission’s Review of Mental Health Programmes and Services, and we urge bi-partisan support for the call from Mental Health Australia for all Australian governments to embrace a decade of mental health reform following the release of the report from National Mental Health Commission’s review.

This is timely given the WA government recently released its Draft Mental Health Plan “Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drugs Services Plan 2015-2025” for consultation and submissions.

It is important that as a nation we think broadly about mental health reform; there is no doubt we need to change the service system in Australia – considering the needs of people with mental illness and their families, the preference for community-based care and the opportunities that technologies provide if they are properly integrated into the system.

It is encouraging to see the Review’s recommendations include an emphasis on community based and person-centred service models.

Reforming the mental health system has to happen on a national, state and a local level.  Having national leadership which sets targets for reform will assist in getting traction locally for initiatives we know will better meet the needs citizens and the needs of the community.  Baptistcare actively supports the Commission’s call for a person-centred community based approach, investment in prevention starting from the early years of life, and a commitment to regional approaches to suicide prevention and mental health care.

Baptistcare has a demonstrated commitment to working together on a regional level to implement the change needed to better support the mental health and wel-lbeing in our communities.  Baptistcare also has a strong track record of working collaboratively with other government and non-government mental health services; this is really important for mental health consumers, who often feel like they are bouncing around in a system that is not well integrated or connected.  Someone once likened the mental health system to a ‘pinball machine’ where service users get bounced around from service to service with lots of noise and bright lights.

On a local level, in places like Geraldton and Narrogin, Baptistcare (along with other organisations) has been working hard to develop better linkages between services and set joint priorities that will provide better responses for people in the local community.

Over recent years there has been much talking about what needs to happen, but we now must make it happen.  Clearly, this hinges on the adequate provision of resources. Baptistcare is committed to reducing mental illness and to improving people’s mental health and well-being.

In seeking the common good Australia must also have a vision that not only includes better treatment of mental illness but also includes reducing the onset of mental illness. This means addressing known risk factors and early intervention.  Taking a prevention approach is essential in addressing the mental health needs of all Australians and it is encouraging to see this is given a greater emphasis in the Commission’s recommendations.  A focused attention on the early years, a commitment to stigma reduction, prioritising workforce development, and a commitment to regionally based approaches in mental health and suicide prevention are all important.

Baptistcare also welcomes the Federal Minister for Health’s acknowledgement that the “mental health sector must also play a direct part in the development of any policies and work hand-in-hand with Governments to develop a national approach.  While setting up a COAG working group and expert reference group will be an adequate step in the reform process; we fear that further delays in direct action will lead to inaction.  The mental health sector has known for years what we need to change. What we are waiting for is national leadership and the will to make it happen.  Nobody thinks that reforming the mental health system will be easy, however there are many, many people ready for to roll up their sleeves and do the work. The current status quo must not prevail.  As the Minister said, this is a “once-in-a-generation opportunity for serious mental health reform in Australia” and Baptistcare, standing with our colleagues, communities and citizens is ready to participate in the reform process.  There has been too much talk the talk in mental health, now it’s time to walk the walk.


Stephen Hall
Stephen Hall
Lives in Perth, Western Australia.

1 Comment

  1. Slick Waters says:

    The mental health system is totally inadequate when it comes to servicing people with high needs in rural, regional and remote parts of Western Australia. 

    Access to many of the primary mental health care and community mental health care services is complicated and poorly integrated. Resources are stretched.

    People living in the bush face a unique set of challenges, needs and health determinants.

    These need to be carefully considered; because when it comes to addressing mental health reform we can’t adopt a one size fits all approach.

    People living outside of our major cities are statistically more likely to be unemployed and suffer from social isolation.

    Socio-economic disadvantage and chronic disease are more prevalent in the bush and there are stress factors unique to rural communities like drought and bush fires.

    It is a sad reality that suicide rates are one-and-a-half times higher in rural and remote areas.

    We know what these people in the bush need: proper access to primary healthcare, such as a local GP, as well as specialist mental health services like psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.

    Unfortunately, the release last week of the Report of the National Review of Mental Health Programmes and Services confirms that this is precisely what they don’t get.

    It warns that reliance on mental health services increases by remoteness but that the services just aren’t there.

    The report argues that while greater overall investment is needed, new technologies and community capacity could boost mental health services in the bush.

    E-mental health services have the potential break down one of the most significant barriers that people outside of our cities face in getting adequate help – distance.

    In addition to this strong consideration should be given to training community members to provide support.

    But to improve mental health outcomes in the bush we need to go much further.

    The government must call off its relentless attacks on Medicare; including any so-called “value signals” designed to discourage people from seeing their local doctor.

    Where psychiatrists or clinical psychologists are few and far between GPs are on the front line of mental health treatment. They must be allowed to get on with the job free from uncertainty.

    The Minister with responsibility for rural and regional health, Senator Fiona Nash, must be included and consulted.

    She has previously conceded that she was kept out of loop on the GP tax. This cannot be the case for mental health in the bush.

    We need mental health reforms  that acknowledge the distribution of services across communities, including low socio-economic, rural and remote communities is poor and that we need a range of initiatives to address these issues.

    We need investment in E-mental health, and extended funding for Mental Health Services in Rural and Remote Areas program and we need flexible  packages of services for people in remote communities.

    The report of the mental health review affirms the need for continued reform.

    The Abbott government still has no real mental health policy, let alone a plan for how to improve mental health outcomes in the bush.

    Senator Nash must consult with rural, regional and remote mental health providers and make sure that her Cabinet colleagues are listening to their input.

    Perhaps most importantly, Prime Minister Tony Abbott must promise that the next federal Budget won’t feature any cuts to mental health funding.

    Only then can people in remote, rural and regional Western Australia  get the help and support they need.