The huge sum of $10 billion is being poured into providing mental health care in Australia, despite the scarcity of data on the topic of mental health needs. This sum may only be a conservative assessment as the indirect costs of mental illness are far higher.

Major gaps exist in our knowledge about the needs of the sector and what programs really work to help despite the billions of dollars being spent.

The Sax Institute was commissioned to identify the most cost effective mental health treatments. The Sax Institute’s Evidence Check Review, conducted for the Mental Health Commission of NSW shows that despite the costs, there is very little research available on how effectively the money is being spent.

Review author Professor Christopher Doran, from the Hunter Medical Research Institute said, “Australia is operating in an information vacuum when it comes to developing mental health programs and much more research is needed.”

According to Mr. Donan, Australia is currently “operating in an information vacuum” when the mental health programs are concerned.

According to the review, one in five Australian adults has suffered from mental illness in the past year, but research on what might work to reduce their illness burden mostly focused on medication and therapy rather than what sorts of programs might be effective in schools or the workplace.

Mr. Donan also mentioned that most of the evidence that he discovered was while assessing a particular drug for a particular condition because pharmaceutical companies are required to provide this information when listing the drug.

‘‘But once it’s listed there is basically no obligation to look at whether or not it is working,’’ he said.

NSW Mental Health Commissioner John Feneley also mentioned that while concentrating on a single drug or treatment, the way mental illness links to a person’s whole life is ignored.

‘‘That model … can look at people as simply a collection of symptoms,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s also common for services at the pointy end of mental illness to be focused on symptom control.’’
He also mentioned that it was crucial to be informed about the real cost of mental illness and what treatment strategies provide the best value for money.

He said, “The review identifies a range of strategies which are proven to be effective, and others that demonstrate real promise. There is a real need for investment in areas of promising work, and this investment should include the funds to evaluate that work. As we do more research we will have more confidence in knowing the programs we are funding meet the needs of the consumers.”

The commission holds the authority to work across all areas of government to improve mental health problems.

Mr. Feneley stated that in order to implement drastic changes more research is required in the area of prevention especially.

‘‘We really want to know it’s worthwhile implementing changes [in areas like education], because it’s too big a ship to turn around quickly,’’ he said.
Mr. Feneley is optimistic that this review will serve as a foundation for the commission to improve mental health conditions.

He said, “The Plan will take a whole-of-government approach to delivering programs that really work for people. Knowing more about the impact of mental illness and its treatment is a crucial first step in informing the Strategic Plan and improving the experience of people in NSW who live with mental illness.”

This lack of information is not limited to Australia only. A World health organization expert stated that no country has yet been able to relate mental health policy with what works best and at what costs.

photo credit: Mikey G Ottawa

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