Oct 10, 2016

World Mental Health Day Speech – 10 Oct 2016

I rise to support the motion by the member for Franklin to recognise World Mental Health Day—today, 10 October 2016. This week is also Mental Health Week. Knowing the number of mental health professionals as I do, it is a very hectic week for them but a very important week to continue to raise the issues of mental health and mental illness, and the cost to the community and the fact that mental illness is, in the main, preventable and treatable. We should do everything we can to remove the stigma surrounding mental health because that stigma, regardless of the benefits and strides we have made, is still costing many lies in our community.

In this Mental Health Week, I would like to pay tribute in particular to Professor Patrick McGorry, the 2010 Australian of the Year. It was his vision that created the first headspace, which was opened 10 years ago tomorrow. I think it may have been opened by then Prime Minister John Howard. That was an initiative that was pioneered by Professor McGorry. I think there are now over 100 sites, notwithstanding some of the difficulties with recent funding commitments. They perform a vital service. They are literally saving people’s lives. Over the past decade, over 260,000 young Australians have sought help and advice in person, over the phone and online through headspace. It is making a substantial difference in our community. How does it matter to the community? The member for Canning talked about some issues in his electorate. In 2012, in my electorate we had what is known as a suicide cluster. It was devastating to the community. A substantial number of young people took their own lives and the community was forced to grapple with that and come together and work out what it could do to stop this youth suicide cluster.

I was fortunate enough to be briefed and encouraged to take some action by an astounding group of Casey’s young people through the Casey Study Tour Group. Those young people that came to me and spoke about this issue—and there were people who were sitting in my office who were friends of some of those young people that had taken their own lives—their approach and their bravery inspired me to conduct a forum that was led by Professor Patrick McGorry. It was filmed by Four Corners. It was part of a program called ‘There is no 3G in heaven’.

It was an important program; it was a confronting program. I certainly commended the Four Corners program for conducting it at the time and I commend the courage of the mums and dads that came along to that forum that had lost young people—enormous courage; courage that we cannot comprehend at this place. Through their commitment and through the commitment, I must say, of the people involved in the Four Corners program and Professor Patrick McGorry, we got funding for two health headspace centres that were overlaid by youth early psychosis centres.

Those centres save lives and continue to save lives. I think—notwithstanding some of the commitments and discussions and figures being put about the federal government on a number of occasions—those two headspaces—through the abolition of the Medicare local healthcare networks and now the devolution to the private health networks create uncertainty—does not lead those staff to continue to be able to provide a guarantee of service to the community.

The other thing that is quite critical in both of those headspaces—particularly the headspace in Narre Warren, which caters to a high youth growth belt—is the fact that the federal government has still not guaranteed the funding for this world-leading service. It is being run by Professor Simon Straface from the Alfred Hospital. So, even though we have heard wonderful words on this Youth Mental Health Day and we are talking about this in a bipartisan spirit, that requires the health minister to adequately fund that. And I know that Professor McGorry is speaking, probably as we speak, with the health minister to get that commitment. I say it is a shame that the health minister is in this position on World Mental Health Day. Regardless of the words that she said in the parliament about her commitment to mental health, our leading Australian psychiatrist in this field is meeting with the health minister to ensure that that funding for early psychosis is going to continue to be provided for the future of our country, our young people. It says a lot.

You have, I think, over 3,000 people who have committed people in this country; 3,000 lives that have been lost. It is an epidemic. We must do something about it; we must make it a priority and we must be bipartisan to save more lives in this country.


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