The Australian Government’s 2019 budget announcement is an encouraging sign that improving the mental health of all Australians is one step closer to becoming a national priority, Professor Patrick McGorry, the executive director of Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, said today.
The Government last night announced a $736 million package of budget measures to improve the mental health of Australians through prevention, early intervention and crisis support services.
A key feature of the budget was $461 million for youth mental health services and suicide prevention. This included funding to increase the number of headspace centres nationally, improve the timeliness with which young people can access headspace services, continuation of Early Psychosis Youth Services nationally, a National Suicide Information Initiative that will deliver a comprehensive and up-to-date view nationally of the prevalence of self-harm and suicide, suicide prevention initiatives aimed specifically at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, and six residential eating disorder treating centres.
Professor McGorry said these initiatives created a solid foundation on which to build the next stage of mental health reform for all Australians, while acknowledging that new building blocks – especially funding for emerging complex and severe mental disorders – were desperately needed.
“We know that 75% of mental illnesses first appear when people are aged under 25, so investing in early intervention services such as headspace and the early psychosis programs that currently operate from a small number of headspace centres is essential if young people are to get well and remain well. Coupled with the National Suicide Information Initiative we are starting to see the beginnings of what could be a robust system of mental health supports,” Professor McGorry said.
“The advent of a national surveillance system in real time for suicide is something that I have advocated for and I am relieved to see it announced. It must be delivered through a nationally mandated body and linked to rapid local response strategies to save precious lives.
“However even with these foundational investments there remains many tens of thousands of young people with complex and severe mental ill-health for whom the services available to help them on the path to recovery do not exist or are inaccessible. They represent the ‘missing middle’ cohort of young people who now fall into a large gap in services. There is an urgent need to deepen and lengthen the mental health services available to young people, and extend these across the lifespan.
“The cost of failing to effectively treat young people with more complex mental health issues is borne in welfare costs, prison costs and the loss of social capital across a person's life. Young futures matter; and everyone who experiences mental ill-health should have the opportunity to access mental health services that give them the best chance of recovery.”
Professor McGorry said part of that recovery included having life-long access to mental health supports, which was why the government’s budget announcement of $114.5 million for a trial of eight new adult walk-in community mental health centres was welcome. However the design and financial model for these centres needs to be carefully specified.
“Adults also need expert care and when young people leave services such as headspace it is important they have access to the expert and holistic community mental health services that will help them maintain good mental and physical health throughout their lives. This trial offers some hope that we might see a future where there is a connected and comprehensive national system of community mental health services that serves all Australians, no matter who they are, how old they are, or where they live.”