Liberal frontbencher Andrew Robb believes stigma around mental illness has led to a lack of government funding.

Opening up about his personal struggle with depression, Mr Robb says the day he got help was one of his most treasured life moments.

But despite the support he’s received from both sides of parliament, he admits he wouldn’t have gone public about his struggle if he had been younger because of the stigma.

 “Even though I think the situation has improved markedly, my assessment is that it is still there,” he told a meeting of mental health experts in Canberra on Monday.

Mr Robb believes stigma is the reason why mental health has received inadequate government funding.

He says mental health groups have only started lobbying government for funding in the past three years, because the stigma holds people back from talking about their experiences, or those of their loved ones.

“We haven’t had those people prepared to come forward because of the stigma,” he said.

“The stigma has been such a massive deterrent.”

Mr Robb believes a significant proportion of single-vehicle accidents on country roads are suicides in disguise, by farmers trying to spare their families the stigma.

He called for local champions of mental illness to come forward, after recalling how former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett finally helped him to seek treatment for the illness he’d struggled with for 43 years.

State and federal ministers met with mental health experts at Parliament House on Monday to discuss a new framework to reduce Australia’s suicide rate by 20 per cent.

The new approach involves nine strategies, including national suicide awareness campaigns, similar to the “Slip, slop, slap” campaign for skin cancer, to start a conversation about the issue and reduce the stigma.

Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley and NSW Mental Health Minister Pru Goward have pledged to consider the new framework.

Ms Ley said she understood the importance of local solutions in dealing with suicide prevention.

Work was continuing on the national mental health plan, with the government’s expert reference group on mental health due to report back in October.

This article first appeared on ‘9 News’ on 10 August 2015.


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