By Gill Callister PSM
13 May 2021
The federal government’s $2.3 billion budget commitment to mental health is a welcome first response to the recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Mental Health.
Never before has the federal government had such a clear and strong remit to invest significantly in mental health reform.
The Productivity Commission outlined a set of comprehensive recommendations to deliver a person-centred mental health system with a greater focus on early intervention, improving people’s experiences with both the mental health system and the range of services beyond healthcare that are crucial for recovery.
The federal budget is a broad package with a significant amount of funding to start to address glaring significant gaps in our mental health system. This budget will start to deliver on that reform and we look forward to seeing future budgets continue to commit to fixing the system for the benefit of consumers, carers and families and the workforce that supports them.
Mind looks forward to working with government and the sector to implement the budget’s relevant key mental health initiatives and support the Productivity Commission’s reforms.
Key budget initiatives
The budget has allocated $171.3 million over two years, to continue psychosocial support for people with severe mental ill health who do not qualify for NDIS. The Productivity Commission found there was a “massive gap” in the provision of psychosocial supports outside the NDIS. We look forward to more specific information about the details and further arrangements for this support between the federal government and the states and territories.
The budget has provided $3.1 million to boost and support the mental health peer workforce through up to 390 scholarships and opportunities for professional collaboration.
The peer workforce plays an essential role in effective mental health recovery. People with lived experience of mental ill-health provide unique benefits, supporting people in their recovery by providing hope through positive self-disclosure, role-modelling self-care and skills for negotiating daily life and they have an ability to empathise directly and immediately. Mind welcomes all opportunities that expand professional development and participation of people with lived experience in the mental health system.
Mental health workforce
The budget has also provided $58.8 million to grow the mental health workforce including measures to increase the number of nurses, psychologists and allied health practitioners in mental health settings through scholarships and clinical placements; more psychiatrists; and better Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island representation in the mental health workforce.
Mental health hubs
The federal government has committed $487.2 million over four years from 2021-2022 to establish a network of ‘Head to Health’ adult mental health centres and satellites. Operating under a ‘no wrong door approach’, these new services will ensure the delivery of easy to access, high quality, person-centred treatment and supports across the mental health care system in our cities, regions and rural areas, providing stigma-free and compassionate care.
It has also committed $278.6 million to expand and enhance headspace youth mental health services.
The announcement of new Head to Health service hubs offers the hope of community based centres with the opportunity to provide the sort of holistic psychosocial support that can enable sustained recovery. This includes support services that can address the life issues that impact directly on people’s mental health and wellbeing, including housing and legal issues.
Carers and families
The budget has allocated $111.4 million to support the take up of group therapy sessions and the participation of family and carers in treatment provided under the Better Access initiative. Carers and families play an integral role in the sustained recovery of people with mental ill-health and require support in their own right to be able to play this important role.
Legal support for people with mental ill-health
Mind welcomes the budget’s additional funding of $60 million through the National Legal Assistance Partnership to provide dedicated legal assistance services for people with mental health issues. Legal issues are mentally stressful for anyone but are particularly challenging for people with mental ill-health. Supporting clients to resolve legal issues can relieve significant psychological burden as Mind’s very successful pilot collaborations with local legal services have proved.
The budget provides $158.6 million over four years from 2021-2022 to work with states and territories to achieve universal aftercare services for people who are discharged from hospital following a suicide attempt and to trial aftercare initiatives in non-hospital contexts.
We heartily endorse this measure. Mind is currently completing delivery of a pilot program providing peer aftercare support for LGBTIQ+ people who have presented with suicidality. Its success has led to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System recommending its rollout across the state.
The federal budget also provides $61.6 million to expand the National Suicide Prevention Leadership and Support Program to increase investment in whole of population suicide prevention activities.
We understand the federal government and the state and territory governments will finalise details that impact on many of these initiatives by November, when the new Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement is delivered. This is an opportunity to align some of the ideas of the Productivity Commission Inquiry and the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, to provide a co-designed, integrated mental health system in which national, state and territory systems are in complement.