Not the last word on mental health

By Gill Callister PSM, CEO Mind Australia Ltd 

8 October 2020

Tuesday night’s federal Budget was eagerly anticipated by the mental health sector.

With the Productivity Commission’s report into mental health commissioned by the Federal Government, Vision 2030 for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in development and Australia’s first Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health appointed earlier this year, we know that the Federal Government understands that the mental health and wellbeing of our community is a priority both during COVID and beyond.

There were some key announcements in the budget which give hope to many people experiencing mental ill-health, their carers and families.

Doubling the Better Access Initiative to fund an additional 10 sessions of Medicare-subsidised psychological therapy sessions each year for patients with a Mental Health Treatment Plan will go a long way to supporting people experiencing distress.

Extra funding for the NDIS will provide some certainty of continuation of this vital scheme.

The focus on young people, who have been disproportionately affected by COVID, is also welcome. The JobMaker scheme will incentivise organisations to hire young people. And the commitment of $45.7 million over four years from 2020-21 to expand the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) program delivered at headspace will assist young people experiencing mental ill-health to get much-needed specialised support for work and study needs.

And of course, the 2 x $250 payments to carers and people on the Disability Support Pension will help to meet some of the financial burden that we know has been experienced during COVID, but don’t go far enough. Through the Caring Fairly national survey, which Mind coordinates, over a third of unpaid carers said they had lost some or all of their regular income as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and 71 per cent experienced increased living costs.

There were some other missed opportunities to address the social and economic determinants that we know are fundamental to people’s ability to lead full and contributing lives.

We would have liked to see investment in social housing. We know through our Trajectories research that having access to safe, affordable and secure housing is a foundation for mental health.

Mind is also disappointed that the Government didn’t secure the economic future of some of our most marginalised communities by providing an adequate and permanent rate of JobSeeker. Returning people to poverty at the end of the year will have a direct impact on mental health.

We note the Treasurer has said the budget will not be the last word. With the Productivity Commission’s final report into mental health being released in coming weeks, we remain steadfast in our expectation that further change and investment in mental health will occur, as is essential for the country’s full recovery.

Mind has contributed to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry over the past 18 months, through public submissions and direct conversations with the Commission. We will be looking to the Commission’s report to provide a path to reform that includes enabling greater access to psychosocial support alongside clinical supports, increasing the use of peer workers in varied settings, setting the foundations for a sustainable workforce and providing all people experiencing mental ill-health a safe place to call home.

Most importantly, we will be looking to the Federal Government to provide its plan to fund vital reform in these areas of need.