Australian mental health system not ‘person-centred’, Productivity Commission finds

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday November 17, 2020

Adobe

Governments must address key gaps and barriers that lead to poor public outcomes in order to fix Australia’s failing mental health system, according to a new report from the Productivity Commission.

The report, which was delivered to the government in June and released publicly on Monday, estimates that mental illness is costing Australia about $200-220 billion per year, with almost one in five Australians experiencing mental illness in a given year.

Among the key barriers are “a lack of clarity across the tiers of government about roles, responsibilities and funding — leading to persistent wasteful overlaps, yawning gaps in service provision and limited accountability”, and under-investment in prevention and early intervention.

The commission found that Australia’s mental health system is not comprehensive, fails to provide the treatment and support that people need and expect, and offers people with mental illness little say in their own treatment.

“Put simply, Australia’s mental health system is not ‘person-centred’. It should be,” the report says.

The report outlines a number of priority reforms, including follow-up care for people after suicide attempts, prioritising the social and emotional development of school children, getting people the right services at the right time, and expanding the remit and independence of the National Mental Health Commission.

National Mental Health Commission CEO Christine Morgan said the report confirms what many have known and experienced for a while — that the Australian mental health system needs systemic reform.

“The report identifies the need for a nationally consistent, comprehensive and compassionate mental health care and suicide prevention system that goes beyond the health system — we fundamentally agree,” Morgan said.

“It’s an approach that ensures everyone has access to the information, support and the help they need, where they need it, at the exact time they need it.

“We are pleased to see that the Productivity Commission recognises there is a need to have a connected system with no gaps, to inform and care; and that the systems are functioning as they should.”

The recommendations have called on governments to:

  • Create a mental health system that places people at its centre, including through addressing barriers in the services available to people who need support,
  • Offer effective aftercare to anyone who presents to a hospital, GP or community mental health service following a suicide attempt, with proactive follow-up support within the first day, week and three months of discharge,
  • Focus on children’s wellbeing, including by taking coordinated action to achieve universal screening for mental illness for all new parents and expanding routine health checks in early childhood to include social and emotional wellbeing.

Other recommendations including providing greater support to tertiary students, helping workplaces be mentally healthy, and reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness.

The report also outlined specific actions for the federal Department of Health, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, the Department of Social Services, as well as education departments across Australia.

Shadow health minister Chris Bowen criticised the government for holding onto the report for five months, describing it as “five months of missed opportunities”.

“The government has said it will respond fully to the report in next year’s Budget. That will be effectively 12 months after they received the report,” he said.

“We will support any measures the government takes and will hold them to account to do it more quickly, more urgently, because this is an urgent national priority.”

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