Oct 18, 2017

Australians for Mental Health Speech – 18 October 2017

I rise tonight to discuss in this place the issue of mental health. In particular, I wanted to raise some issues on behalf of Australians for Mental Health, who have asked me to come to this place to encourage this parliament and all parties to reaffirm their commitment to making mental health a priority and to help end the stigma and shame associated with those seeking help for mental ill-health.

On 23 August 2014, I was honoured to launch Australians for Mental Health at the Village Cinemas in Fountain Gate. It aims to improve, and campaign for improved, mental health services. I did that with Professor Pat McGorry. Mental ill-health will affect up to about 50 per cent of all Australians at some stage in their life. Too often, they suffer in silence. Australians for Mental Health has as its charter the aim of providing a stronger uniting voice for every Australian affected directly or indirectly by mental ill-health. It will advocate for change, and it will continue to advocate for change.

On that note, last week, as part of Mental Health Week, I was delighted to attend a celebration at headspace Narre Warren for headspace Day. It is a national event that aims to get people talking about youth mental health. Each year, a quarter of all young Australians will experience mental health issues. The theme of headspace Day was the importance of young people taking care of their mental health issues early, before they become serious. It was an honour to meet all the wonderful staff at headspace Narre Warren, which is led by centre manager Nicholas Teo. Headspace Narre Warren is one of the most popular headspace services in the country, assisting over 1,200 young people in the Casey area in 2017. The national average is approximately 650 people. It was wonderful to meet the staff and to thank them for making a real difference to the lives of Casey youth. I look forward to working closely with headspace Narre Warren and with Mr Peter Ruzyla, the chief executive officer of EACH, who oversees the running of this headspace, Dandenong headspace and other headspaces, and also to assisting him in ensuring funding so that this centre and other centres remain so that we keep a world-class local mental health facility for young people in the long term.

The plight of the state of mental health in Australia was amplified by a briefing by Professor Pat McGorry, who is, as I’ve said before, leading the efforts of Australians for Mental Health. Professor McGorry made it clear that over the last 15 years we have witnessed an increase in awareness about mental health and mental illness. However, it’s his view that more action is needed to properly invest in mental health. A few years ago, mental health funding in this country was set at seven per cent of the total health spend in Australia. But now it’s declined to 5.25 per cent of the health budget. In contrast, data shows that most OECD countries spend between 12 and 16 per cent of their health budgets on mental health services. That mental health funding in Australia is at Third World levels is almost impossible to fathom.

Professor McGorry also told me a story about an associate who was a clinical psychologist whose brother had schizophrenia. He had a severe illness but he received less than good-quality health care due to the lack of investment, it was said, in mental health. In contrast, this man’s sister, about a year ago, was diagnosed with lymphoma. In the same health system, the sister received top-quality care and mental health support, whereas her brother continued to receive poor-quality care when he would relapse. When you hear such stories, it re-amplifies why we need to be more focused on improving mental health services in Australia.

During Mental Health Week it was also concerning to hear that the suicide rate in Australia was 3,027 people in 2015. When each of these deaths is preventable, it’s vital to ensure people can obtain expert care in the future to reduce the suicide rate to zero. Having worked with Professor McGorry for a number of years, the key thing that strikes me is the decrease in mental health funding from seven per cent to 5.25 per cent, which does impact on mental health services in this country. We have to do more as a country to lift funding so that we can give those with mental health and mental illness issues the care that they deserve and need.


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