I was concerned by the article in Crikey last Friday where Professor Patrick McGorry accused the Greens of not caring about mental health funding simply because we'd failed to back a Coalition motion in the Senate.
Since then Get Up have responded with a campaign to get their members to contact The Greens and urge us to support the Coalition. Why anyone who had compared our policies would want us to drop our comprehensive mental health reform strategy in exchange for the grab-bag offerings of the Coalition is beyond me.
Professor McGorry has done a fantastic job as a mental health practitioner and advocate, and his appointment as Australian of the Year was a fitting and well-deserved accolade. Despite of the impression his article may have conveyed, I do not believe there is a difference of opinion between Professor McGorry and the Greens on the need for a better-resourced and more-effective national mental-health strategy. Where it seems we differ is on what we consider are likely to be the most effective means of securing that outcome. In supporting the Coalition’s motion as it was our concern was that funding for some would come at the expense of others.
The Greens believe that what is needed is a joined-up and comprehensive approach that better integrates the funding and support of mental health services into the wider health system. Early intervention programs (such as Headspace and EPPIC) are an essential part of that solution -- but early intervention programs alone will not solve the problem of ensuring there are joined-up services to meet the needs of the many Australians already within (and being failed by) our mental-health system.
The Headspace program is a world leader on early identification and intervention and delivers great results in reducing the intensity and longer-term impact of mental illness in people younger than 25. However, for those people who will have a mental illness that will stay with them for the rest of their lives, there are simply not enough services and support to deal with their needs when they are older than 25 and living with a long-term, low-prevalence mental illnesses.
The end result for many of these people is homelessness, unemployment and poverty and their families and carers are often left to struggle for decades on their own because their needs are not met within our current health system.
We recognise that health resources are tight, and are concerned that committing all our additional resources into the "front end" of the mental-health system, while neglecting other parts is unlikely to fix the systemic problems with our mental-health system -- and people will keep falling through the cracks. There are also equity and justice issues involved in ensuring that those with the greatest problems, who have to date been so badly let down by the system, receive the care and attention they deserve after so much neglect.
The Coalition motion, calling for more Headspace and EPPIC centres, was simply asking for the Government to implement the Coalition's election policy. There were no costings attached to the motion and it would not have obliged (and certainly not persuaded) the Government to do anything.
We remain concerned that the Coalition policy simply focused on a couple of high-profile programs, but in-and-of-itself did not add up to a realistic approach to fixing Australia's current crisis in mental-health services.
The Coalition proposed to fund their mental health commitments by pulling resources out of the current health reform process. We believe that an additional commitment of resources of at least $350 million per annum is needed to solve these problems, and that this money needs to be carefully allocated to mental-health services to deliver a comprehensive mental-health system.
I again encourage the Coalition to work with the Greens on a motion that reflects the need for a comprehensive approach to mental health.
While the Coalition were not prepared to consider amendments to their motion last sitting, the Greens remain open to negotiations with them to ensure the Government deliver on the real reform needed across the mental health sector.
I recently chaired the Senate Inquiry into suicide and have since spoken to a wide range of stakeholders about mental-health reform. I'm convinced that a comprehensive and joined-up approach is essential (together with a specific strategy for rural and regional Australia). This was the policy we took to the election, and it remains the approach that we are focusing our efforts on within the Parliament.
The Greens plan calls for additional mental health funding of $350 million per year for the next four years:
• $150 million per year for early intervention mental health programs including "Headspace" and early psychosis prevention services,
• $100 million per year for incentives at the primary-care level to target those in need, the vulnerable and long-term clientele working with the community and non-government organisation sector, and
• $100 million per year for alternatives to emergency department treatment such as multidisciplinary community-based sub-acute services that supports "stepped" (two-staged) prevention and recovery care.
I am also pleased to see that for the first time Australia has a Minister for Mental Health. This was a Greens policy, which we believe demonstrates that we are more focused on delivering meaningful mental health reform outcomes than playing politics with this issue.
Originally published by Crikey on 4 November, 2010