Australians deserve the best mental health system in the world, where those who need it get access to timely and appropriate care.
We now stand at a crossroads. To substantially increase the number of Australians getting the care they need, we can either massively expand the current system at significant additional cost, or fundamentally reorient investment towards a system that is both efficient and effective.
In its 2013 National Report Card, the National Mental Health Commission found that only 6 to 8 per cent of Australians get access to timely and appropriate mental health services. They set a goal for this to be doubled.
The question is: What is the cost of success?
A study released by ReachOut.com by Inspire Foundation and EY, Crossroads: Rethinking the Australian mental health system, found that, under the current system with its focus on clinical services, the cost of success would be high, requiring at least $9 billion over 15 years, and an additional 8,800 professionals.
The report argues that if we fundamentally reorient focus and investment towards a ‘stepped care’ system, the Commission’s goal can be achieved more effectively and efficiently.
This would require better investment in lower-cost interventions, particularly online self-help services, that can absorb huge increases in demand with relatively small additional investment.
It argues that these online services need to be better integrated with existing clinical services, so that there is a clear and easy pathway to further, more intensive support for those that need it.
Should we do this, we have an opportunity to significantly increase the number of people receiving care while freeing up valuable clinical services to assist those with more complex needs, without a massive injection of additional resources.
The good news is Australia is a world leader in the delivery of online self-help services and is undertaking ground-breaking research that will result in even better services in years to come.
ReachOut.com, for example, was a world-first when it was launched in 1998, and is now visited by well over 100,000 users every month, most of whom are young people experiencing distress. Due to its scalable nature, ReachOut.com could easily absorb double the number of users and do so quickly and at low cost.
With our partners in the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, we are also developing new interventions that have the potential to significantly improve the care available through ReachOut.com and other online services.
There is now a genuine opportunity to design and develop the best mental health system in the world and – if we get it right – the impact will be significant and far-reaching.
At an economic level, we will be able to better manage health expenditure and improve productivity. At a personal level it means Australians will get the care they need when they need it.
We’re at a crossroads and there is no reason why, if we choose the right path, we can’t achieve this vision.
Written by CEO of Reach Out by Inspire Foundation, Jonathan Nicholas.
Email: [email protected]
Download a copy of the report: Crossroads: Rethinking the Australian Mental Health System