Government failing on mental illness

Every day, more than seven people die as a result of suicide in Australia, and more than a third of those have been discharged t

Professor John Mendoza, head advisor to the federal government on mental health, recently resigned his position, citing frustration at government inaction on one of Australia’s leading causes of death and disability.

The article below is abridged from a letter he sent to members of campaign groups GetUp! explaining his reasons for resigning.

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On June 18, I resigned my position as the head advisor to the government on mental health.

Every day, 330 Australians with serious mental illnesses are turned away from emergency departments, and 1200 Australians are refused admission to a public or private psychiatric unit.

Every day, more than seven people die as a result of suicide, and more than a third of those have been discharged too early or without care from hospitals. For each of those seven Australians, there are seven families who mourn them, seven groups of friends who ask themselves, “why?”

There are programs on the ground right now, proven to be effective — but we need real leadership and new investment to roll them out nationally. The Headspace youth mental health centres and psychosis intervention services pioneered by Professor Patrick McGorry are excellent and can reach hundreds of thousands of young Australians, if we make an extra investment of $250 million a year.

The lack of spending right now means tens of thousands of young Australians have no access to care.

We also need to expand programs for child mental health, so the parents of every child with a learning or developmental disorder can access effective services. We must also provide more support for the 63,000 homeless Australians suffering from mental illness and invest in e-health services that can reach hundreds of thousands of sufferers cost effectively.

Lastly, we owe it to our children and their peers to implement a national suicide prevention service. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men aged 16-44 and women aged 16-34. But across Australia, life-saving suicide prevention services are starved for funds.

$100 million would expand these crucial services and concentrate on suicide hot spots, like “The Gap” in Sydney, where recently the federal and New South Wales governments passed up on the opportunity to fund an effective suicide prevention project.

For too long, successive governments have failed to take mental health seriously. It's now the leading cause of disability for all Australians and the leading killer of those under 44. On June 18, then prime minister Kevin Rudd restated his commitment “to do more on mental health” and that the “next cab off the rank was mental health”.

They've been saying that for six months, but if they're serious, these sensible investments can start saving lives and alleviate suffering today.

The concerted efforts of mental health campaigners, including GetUp! members, have been effective in securing small pledges from the government this year — but we need an investment of at least $500 million to start turning this health crisis around. It's within our grasp.

A poll commissioned by GetUp! recently found that 83% of Australians would be in favour of investing $500 million in mental health immediately.

The policies are there, the public support is there and millions of Australians are waiting for help — now we need the public political pressure to make it happen.

[For more information, visit www.getup.org.au.]

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