Urgent mental health reform

Illustration by Garth Jones – http://www.eldepositodelplatino.com/A report leaked to the ABC’s 7.30 Report has cast a damning light on the nation’s mental health services apparent lack of coordination, accountability and efficacy.

The as-yet unreleased report, commissioned by the Federal Government, makes wide-ranging recommendations such as redirecting funding from hospital care to community-based services.

A key recommendation seeks to address the systemic problems facing those released from hospital care, often prematurely, after attempting suicide.

The 7.30 Report spoke with former government mental health adviser Professor John Mendoza who lost his nephew, Jeffrey Mendoza, to suicide recently.

Professor Mendoza described the current structures underpinning the delivery of mental health services in Australia as a “schmozzle”.

“That we are still spending more than 50 per cent of our mental health funding in acute care hospital wards is wrong – the evidence to support that does not exist,” he said.

“What we should be doing is shifting that funding to the community sector. We should be ensuring we have the capacity to reach out to people, like Jeffrey, in crisis and treat them in their home.”

Prof Mendoza is joining calls from the broader community sector urging an overhaul of the way mental health services are delivered in Australia.

“In 2010 and 2011 again, Tony Abbott made mental health matter,” he said.

“Was that merely political opportunism or was the prime minister genuine in terms of a commitment to mental health reform? I don’t know the answer to that, but the longer this report is not released the more it looks like opportunism.”

The report echoes many of the issues discussed in this Crosslight article from September last year. Examining the work of Lifeline in suicide prevention, the article highlighted the increasing suicide rate in Australia – every 50 seconds someone telephones Lifeline for support.

UnitingCare Victoria and Tasmania director Stephanie Lagos welcomed the recommendations noting the dire need to support integrated community based services in regional areas.

“Agencies are doing phenomenal work supporting individuals with mental illness – often under very strained conditions,” Ms Lagos said.

“There are significant needs in regional communities particularly concerning individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds in regional Victoria and Tasmania.”

Ms Lagos said dual diagnosis (instances where individuals suffer from mental illness and some form of substance abuse) is increasing and not adequately addressed in hospital care.

Ms Lagos added that community based agencies such as UnitingCare were particularly well placed to address this and other mental health issues.

Former Australian of the Year and mental health advocate Professor Patrick McGorry also spoke on the program stressing the need for actionable targets.

“The first thing is that we need to make the public aware of what a  preventable killer it [mental health] actually is and then we need evidence-based strategies to stem the tide and set targets in the reduction of suicide,” Prof McGorry said.

“For example in Sweden they set a zero road toll target by 2020 – we should at least set a 50 per cent reduction in suicide over the next five to 10 years.”

Click here for the full 7.30 report.

Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 131 114

Illustration by Garth Jones – http://www.eldepositodelplatino.com/

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