A budget pledge of $2.3 billion to fight mental health problems and prevent suicides may not be enough and critics say the government’s plans are short on detail and ignored vital advice.
Recommendations in the Productivity Commission’s report from earlier this year were not addressed, according to Dr Rachael Murrihy, director of the The Kidman Centre, a mental health treatment and research hub based at The University of Technology Sydney.
“[The report] was very much focused on prevention and there is very little of that in the budget,” she told Central News.
“What they wanted was for schools to clearly target student wellbeing; they wanted prevention programs that would help students develop their social and emotional competencies. There’s none of that in this budget.”
The government’s proposed package includes $156.8 million of funds to provide three months of follow-up care for people discharged from hospital after a suicide attempt, as well as $22 million to fund support for people bereaved by suicide and the opening of an additional 15 child mental health hubs.
However, the budget failed to specify how these hubs would be dispersed across the country, leaving experts concerned about the viability of the plan.
Professor Ian Hickie, co-director of health and policy at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre and former chief executive of Beyond Blue, said there has yet to be any clear set of decisions on where these hubs will be and how they will be accessed.
“While the government has put a great deal of emphasis on providing new treatment centres and more complex care, the details are missing and there’s still apparently a great deal of negotiation to go on between the states and territories,” he said.
Unfortunately it’s a drop in the ocean for the need out there
Whilst further support services are welcomed in the struggling sector, experts fear these monetary commitments fall short of the ever-growing demand for mental health support, particularly in regional communities.
“At best it’s a 5 per cent increase in the national budget… it’s not enough,” Mr Hickie said.
“The conundrum is you need money but also structural reform. Particularly in rural Australia, how you are going to deliver better services is critical.”
The Morrison Government’s total annual investment in mental health has grown from $5.9 billion in 2020–21 to $6.3 billion in 2021–22, but experts fear Australia is falling ever further behind in a historically underinvested industry.
“It’s not just about how much money is spent…it’s about where that money goes,” said Dr Murryih.
“Unfortunately it’s a drop in the ocean for the need out there.”
Main picture by Lauren Rushing/Flickr