General News — 16 January 2018

A TIDAL wave of people seeking help for mental illness means there is a desperate need to train more psychiatrists and mental health nurses and establish community programs, the Australian Medical Association has advised.

The number of Medicare funded medical consults for mental illness is growing by 7.6 per cent a year with 10 million recorded in 2015-16 and 36 million prescriptions for mental medications dispensed.

Mental institutions have been closed but governments have not funded enough community managed mental health services to replace them and the area is “grossly underfunded” the AMA says in a damning new position statement on mental health.

In fact as demand for help grows programs that support the mentally ill are being shut down by governments with funding diverted to the NDIS and Primary Health Networks leaving people falling between the cracks.

Mental health programs have been shut down due to the National Disability Insurance Scheme and people are falling through the cracks. Photo: istock.

Two out of three people who used to be helped by key government mental health services like Personal Helpers and Mentors are not getting an NDIS plan the Department of Social Services has


The Personal Helpers and Mentors program used to help over 20,000 people with severe mental illness manage their daily activities so they could live independently in the community and provides links to housing support, employment and education, drug and alcohol rehabilitation services.

It is unclear what help is now being given to those who used to rely on this service but missed out on NDIS funding says Amanda Bresnan Executive Director of Community Mental Health Australia.

Despite 30 government inquiries mental health remains grossly underfunded and there is still no architecture to prevent or manage the illness the Australian Medical Association said.

The peak medical body has issued a position statement on mental health which says some Australians with a mental illness are dying 25 years earlier than the general population.

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon calls for increased funding for mental health. Photo: Ray Strange.


It’s calling for a major funding boost, wants more psychiatrists and mental health nurses trained, caps removed from Medicare subsidies for mental health and says community mental health services need to be enlarged.

Mental health problems amounts to over 12 per cent of the nation’s health burden but the conditions receives just 5.25 per cent of health funding, the position statement says.

“There is no vision of what the mental health system will look like in the future, nor is there any agreed national design or structure that will facilitate prevention and proper care for people with mental illness,” AMA president Dr Michael Gannon said.

The document warns there are not enough acute hospital beds or community nurses and programs and previous policies that stripped funding from hospitals to fund primary care were “disastrous”.

“Funding should be based on the basis of need, demand, and disease burden — not a competition between sectors and specific conditions,” Dr Gannon said.

There is concern among some mental health experts certain high profile bodies and psychiatrists continually win funding when there is little analysis of performance outcomes.

The government last week allocated $110 million to extend and expand mental health programs for young Australians with the bulk of the money going to Beyond Blue, Orygen and Headspace.

The Government has recently allocated more funding for youth mental health. Photo: Thinkstock


A 2015 independent analysis of Headspace by University NSW found while it was accessible it only produced “small” improvements in the mental conditions of the 200,000 young people who used it.


• the psychological distress of only 47 per cent of headspace clients decreased;

• 13.3% experienced a clinically significant reduction in psychological distress;

• 9.4% a reliable reduction and 24.3% an insignificant reduction;

• Almost 29% of young people experienced no change in their psychological distress level and 4.5% experienced a clinically significant increase in psychological distress.

• The average cost of a headspace occasion of service was $339, the study found.

• The AMA says if funding for co-ordinated and well run community managed mental health services is increased it will reduce the need for costly hospital admissions.

This piece by Sue Dunlevy was first seen on ‘The Herald Sun’, 13 January 2018.



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