Mental health announcement positive but more work needed

Posted on July 29, 2010 by

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Julia Gillard yesterday revealed her response to the coalition’s $1.5 billion mental health policy announced earlier in the month. A re-elected Gillard Government would increase efforts in suicide prevention and crisis intervention. The Government said it would invest an additional $113.9 million to provide more frontline services in the community for people with severe mental illness.

Headspace CEO Chris Tanti said that the Prime Minister’s proposed policy would “make a significant impact on the lives of many Australians, particularly young people and those at risk of taking their own lives”. He said “early intervention is crucial in reducing the impact of mental illness and drug and alcohol use by young people in Australia”.

Key areas of the policy include increased funding to allow Lifeline Australia’s support hotlines to take more calls, efforts to improve safety at suicide ‘hotspots’, ‘mental health first aid’ training for frontline community workers, the establishment of outreach teams to schools affected by suicide, and the improvement of community-led suicide prevention services targeted at higher risk communities. A further focus will be on providing support for children with mental health problems and developing online mental health and counselling services.

The Greens have also welcomed the Government’s response but say it doesn’t go far enough in addressing the recommendations of the report presented by the Senate Community Affairs Inquiry into Suicide and Suicide Prevention. Describing it as “patches” for “a broken system”, the party said much more money was needed. Greens Senator Rachel Siewert chaired the inquiry and is disappointed the Government has ignored many of the recommendations outlined in the report, “According to the experts these announcements are too small to make a difference”. Calling for increased money for early intervention, incentives at the primary care level to target those in need and increased funding for alternatives to emergency department treatment, Senator Siewert said she believes that announcement was a good starting point, but that the Government needs to do more to solve what it has described as a “national tragedy”.

Mr Tanti made clear that although he thinks more needs to be done, he is happy about the announcement and said that overall the announcement was “a good one”. He believes it will have real impacts for young people and those at risk. Tanti says that any debate in this area is always a positive thing; “a year ago we weren’t hearing anything about mental health from either of the major parties so it really is good to have it on the agenda”. “It’s important now that we hold them to account”, he said.

Senator Seiwert agreed, saying that even though it is positive news that mental health and suicide prevention is now being talked about, the major parties need to focus on increasing their expenditure; “74% of people who have taken their life have had contact with mental health services. If we don’t deal with mental health more broadly, we’re not fully addressing the issue of suicide. We need to improve the whole system”.

Words – Zach Kitschke

Image – Julia Gillard MP Official Photostream

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