Advocates have been raising their voices against the government’s abandonment of its commitment to the mental health sector in favour of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). This came as a shock because only two years ago Prime Minister Julia Gillard made commitments to the sector that did not see the light of the day.
They have argued that mental health affects millions every year and it requires more attention and contribution in the longer term. While disability care and the NDIS appear significant as well, the government should implement more measures to fulfil their past promises.
Mention has been made of Julia Gillard’s promise in 2010 to make mental health a “key second term priority for her government”. She committed $2.2 billion to the mental health sector in 2010 and 2011. She also announced key reforms like building 16 early psychosis prevention and intervention centres for seriously mentally ill people.
But nothing has been done to implement her promises as Professor Mendoza who resigned as chair of the mental health advisory council in 2010 said, “But not one bit of soil has been turned on these centres, yet they are working away on the NDIS.” This is also the reason why Professor Mendoza accused these government promises of being a “fraud”.
Since 1992, Australia has had its fair share of mental health interventions that were unable to meet the required goal. These include four mental health plans, two national health policies, one national action plan, one national report card and the final nail in the coffin is the latest road map.
Over the past 20 years, Australian government has failed to raise the rate of access to care for people with mental health issues and key groups essentially will continue to miss out. Only 13% of young men faced with a mental illness receive any care at all. More surprisingly, only one third of the affected population receives any access to mental health care. The only hope for treatment for the mentally ill is the hospital emergency department.
The new roadmap leads us nowhere. It in fact takes us back to familiar ground. It contains absolutely no new funding for mental health. It leaves the responsibility on the shoulders of Commonwealth/States limiting the quality of care provided to where a person resides. It offers no strategy to young people with mental illnesses like schizophrenia- even though 75% of mental illnesses manifest by the age of 25 years.
Mental health minister Mark Butler defended the government’s previous record on mental health issues. His spokesman is reported to have said, “Australia’s $2.2 billion national mental health reform plan is progressing on time and represents the biggest investment ever by an Australian federal government.” He also makes more promising claims by saying, “The government’s $2.2 billion national mental health reform plan has seen new services being rolled out like our $550 million Partners in Recovery program, 90 headspace youth mental health centres, free online face-to-face counselling services and we’ve doubled the size of the Access to Allied Psychological Services program.”
But we should not let hopes soar as Sebastian Rosenberg, a senior lecturer at the Brain and Mind Research Institute, University of Sydney said, “The roadmap takes us back to familiar, depressing sights. It offers a gestural national vision, and then makes it clear everybody can go back to normal, doing things to their own timeframes and priorities. It offers no new incentives or sanctions to do things differently in mental health yet the last thing we can afford is more of the same. Too many lives lost, lives wasted.”
photo credit: Matt-Stewart