Opinion piece by Carmel Tebbutt, CEO Mental Health Coordinating Council
When the Productivity Commission released its watershed report into mental health over 12 months ago, it clearly articulated the need to expand the provision of psychosocial supports to the thousands of people missing out on these crucial services.
To help propel governments towards this solution, lived experience leaders and leading mental health organisations, including the Mental Health Coordinating Council, are working together to provide a strong, united voice and demonstrates agreement across the country on the need for mental health reform.
A National Psychosocial Support Program is needed to support the more than 150, 000 Australians with severe and complex mental health conditions currently missing out on the support they need.
The need for such a program was highlighted in the Productivity Commission’s 1,200 plus page report.
The seminal report forensically set out the challenges people face trying to get the support they need from our fragmented mental health system.
COVID-19 has meant the system has only become more stretched since the 2020 release of the Productivity Commission’s report, with the pandemic both contributing to heightened psychological distress and exacerbating long term mental illness.
Governments, both state and national, have responded to this need with welcome additional funding for mental health services.
This has included the national network of Head to Health community-based service hubs announced in the 2021 Federal Budget and millions of extra dollars provided by state governments for mental health recovery.
These are worthwhile measures, but they fall short of what is needed to transform the mental health system into a person-centred, integrated system of recovery focused community mental health support and treatment services.
Existing initiatives do not address in any comprehensive way the needs of a group of people who often get overlooked in the current conversations about mental health reform. These are people living with severe and enduring mental ill health issues.
While many people living with mental ill health experience mild and episodic symptoms, for others, mental illness can seriously impact their job security, housing, social and family connections, and community activities.
This is where psychosocial support and rehabilitation services delivered by community mental health organisations can make all the difference.
Community-based organisations support people to manage daily activities, improve social and relationship skills, maintain housing and access employment and education opportunities.
People can live well in the community with the right mix of services.
If we are genuinely going improve the life outcomes for people with enduring mental health conditions, we need a comprehensive psychosocial support system.
We need services tailored to people’s needs and delivered in their own communities.
Unfortunately, still too many people living with severe mental health conditions are not getting what they need to live full and contributing lives.
While some receive support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme and others access state-funded services, like the well-regarded Housing and Accommodation Support Initiative in NSW, need is no guarantee of support.
Psychosocial supports are an incredibly important, but often overlooked solution for the 154,000 people the Productivity Commission estimated are currently missing out on these vital services.
There is great hope that the long anticipated National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement currently being negotiated between the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments will address the needs of many people.
The National Agreement must include timeframes and funding for the rollout of a psychosocial support program, so all Australians can get the mental health services they need.
Despite in principle support from all governments and an earlier commitment by the Prime Minister that the Agreement would be finalised in November, it still has not been released.
Let’s hope we do not have to wait too much longer – people living with mental health conditions have waited long enough.
For media queries or to request an interview with Carmel Tebbutt, contact Lara Cole on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0421 202 643