Significant investment in mental health welcomed

Federal investment of $2.3 billion into mental health and suicide prevention over four years has been welcomed by Queensland Mental Health Commissioner Ivan Frkovic.

“This is a significant and necessary investment into mental health reform by the Federal Government that is long overdue,” Mr Frkovic said.

“It starts to address the substantial economic cost of up to $70 billion a year for mental ill-health, as estimated by the Productivity Commission Inquiry,” he said.

The Commonwealth has confirmed its support in full, in part or in principle for all recommendations from the Productivity Commission and the Prime Minister’s National Suicide Prevention Adviser.

“However, it’s important to remember that this initial funding only addresses the most pressing strategic reforms outlined in their recommendations,” Mr Frkovic said.

“The mental health system has been under-resourced for more than a decade, and much more investment and reform is required to implement the Productivity Commission recommendations.”

Of the funded initiatives, Mr Frkovic said the $300 million for suicide prevention, particularly universal access to aftercare, is a critical shift towards reducing the nation’s suicide rate.

“More than 3300 Australians died by suicide in 2019, a devastating toll that has long-lasting effects on families and whole communities.

“Proactive follow-up care after discharge from an emergency department is essential, particularly in the critical three months after an attempt.”

The $79 million for a renewed National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy, was also welcomed by Mr Frkovic, as it would enable establishment of community-integrated regional plans and culturally-sensitive local suicide prevention services, such as aftercare and 24/7 crisis support.

Mr Frkovic said $1.4 billion for a national network of up to 57 additional community mental health treatment centres for adults, youth and children was badly needed to address chronic unmet need and gaps in service, particularly for people described as the missing middle and those living in regional and rural areas.

“We need to break the cycle where people’s mental health needs are under-serviced until they reach a crisis, and then need to present to a state or territory operated emergency department,” he said.

“With the right service model, the treatment centres will boost access to and continuity of supports via community services focused on personalised and holistic treatment, prevention and early intervention.”

Mr Frkovic said building clinical capacity is vital.

“Additional investment in Headspace and Head to Health Kids in particular will help address critically high demand for child and youth mental health services.

“But we need to ensure these treatment centres comprehensively address the service gap for people with complex needs, not just refer them on to state operated services that are already overloaded,” he said.

“Coupled with the $111.2 million invested into digital services, the treatment centres have potential to provide timely, appropriate and quality support within the home or as close to home as possible.”

Mr Frkovic said the additional $171 million for continuity of psychosocial support services for people with severe psychosocial disability was necessary for people ineligible for the NDIS.

“However, there needs to be an ongoing funding commitment beyond current the two-year budget horizon.”

Mr Frkovic welcomed the investment into the mental health workforce and program evaluation, and $124.7 million over two years in workforce support under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement.

However, the budget did not deliver growth funding for alcohol and other drug services and little to overcome the social determinants of mental illness.

He said the mental health and suicide prevention sector would look to the new Commonwealth-State agreement on mental health and suicide prevention, to be developed by November 2021, to guide the next tranche of reform.

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