ONE of Australia’s foremost authorities on mental health has warned the lack of funding certainty for mental health programs in Australia could cost lives. John Mendoza, the inaugural chairman of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health and former CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, has joined the call for Prime Minister Tony Abbott to provide certainty to the sector. Hundreds of contracts for community-based mental health services and programs, including many that run on the Sunshine Coast, are due to end on June 30. Mental Health Australia delivered a letter to Mr Abbott imploring the government take “urgent action” to ensure continuity of services and programs. It carries 70 signatures of key mental health organisations, including Headspace, the Black Dog Institute, Suicide Prevention Australia, R U OK and SANE Australia. Mr Mendoza, who lives on the Sunshine Coast, said the sector was struggling to maintain its existing services when there was no assurance they would have funding into the future. “This affects 160 program providers around the country,” Mr Mendoza said. “It will have an impact on literally hundreds of thousands of people. This will result in loss of life on a significant scale if the organisations are not given continuity of funding.” He said the government should not “hide behind budget considerations” in delaying a response. “I have been a senior public servant; the budget is already locked down. There is no good reason for delaying a decision”. Mr Mendoza said the mental health programs funded by the Commonwealth were “specifically targeted to those most vulnerable. These folk cannot be left without support or we may as well reopen the equivalent of a 90,000 bed in a psych institute. As it is, these service providers are losing staff they cannot replace because of the uncertainty.”
Mr Mendoza said, as it was, mental health services across Australia were “grossly under-funded”. If the services are withdrawn, hospitals will be swamped. Instead of one in four callouts being mental health related, they will be swamped. Even if the government announces in May funding will continue, the damage will have been done. We need certainty now.”
This article first appeared Sunshine Coast Daily, 25 March 2015.