Time to rise up, says leading mental health advocate

4 minute read

At the risk of going all Hamilton on you, people need to get angry about the parlous state of mental healthcare in this country.

How broken does the mental health system have to be that a support organisation needs to ask the public for donations to sponsor someone’s counselling session? 

Pretty damn broken would seem to be the answer. 

As we reported on Friday, the Mental Health Foundation of Australia is asking members of the public to donate as little as $20 to help provide care for people needing counselling. 

It’s a student-led service, but it’s filling gaps that badly need filling. And it’s not getting a lot of help. 

MHFA’s CEO Vasan Srinivasan told The Medical Republic that despite his best efforts, state and federal government funding has been impossible to secure. 

“I tried very hard [to secure government funding] … but no one wants to hear it,” said Mr Srinivasan. 

“If the money is available, the government gets more media by blindly giving the money to Headspace or BeyondBlue, SANE Australia or Mind Australia. 

“They don’t even look at anyone else.” 

What are we doing? Not enough is the short answer. 

It’s been a bad year for mental health, particularly for women. Thirty-one women have been murdered in Australia, so far this year, 11 this month alone. That’s one every 3.5 days. If we don’t think that affects the mental health of women – and the people who care about them – across the country, we are fair dinkum kidding ourselves. 

Add in the Bondi Junction nightmare and the stabbing of a Sydney bishop and things are increasingly tense. But of course, the mental health effects are felt much further afield than just women. 

Mental health sector veteran Professor Pat McGorry, former Australian of the Year and about as wise on these matters as anyone this reporter has every come across, told Nine newspapers that waiting for mental health reform in this country was “like waiting for Godot”.  

“It’s not on the political agenda. It’s just not. And yet it’s a massive public health issue.  

“We’re spending $42 billion on the National Disability Insurance Scheme and $12 billion on mental health for the whole country,” Professor McGorry said. 

Professor McGorry was commenting following the resignation of Mental Health Australia’s chair Matt Berriman last Wednesday. 

When I caught up with Professor McGorry on Friday a couple of days had not changed his position. 

“We are not making any progress at all. The government’s done nothing,” he said. 

“I think [federal Health Minister] Mark Butler would be open to doing things, but there’s no appetite from the whole of government.  

“The state systems are on their knees. In Victoria we had a Royal Commission … but nothing much has changed. New South Wales is obviously in dire straits. 

“Bondi Junction would not have happened if that man had been detected and provided with the care he needed.  

“Headspace are on their knees too, because the financial model’s broken and there’s a 50% rise in prevalence.” 

The question is why are governments so reluctant to do what’s necessary to make the mental health system viable, working, effective, and safe for Australians? 

“They all use the excuse that ‘the sector can’t agree’,” said Professor McGorry. 

“What sector ever does? 

“It shouldn’t require the sector to agree before government does something. That’s what government is for.” 

For Professor McGorry, the difference between what is spent on the NDIS and what is spent on mental health is an appalling disparity. 

“The government knows that [getting mental health right] is going to cost a lot of money,” he said.  

“It should cost at least somewhere in the ballpark of the NDIS. They’ve got to cut back on the NDIS because there’s a massive waste and rorting going on in there.  

“But they haven’t got the appetite for big reforms like that. That’s the problem.” 

Professor McGorry wants Australians to get angry and start putting pressure on governments. 

“We need people to get angry and tell the government that they’ve got to address this. 

“There was a fork in the road back in the Gillard government. They could have chosen the NDIS or mental health. 

“They chose the NDIS.  

“That choice is stopping us from dealing with something that’s going to impact a lot more people.” 

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