Opinion — 02 March 2016

AS Carol da Costa-Roque observed in Monday’s The Courier-Mail our society has some way to go towards providing people with mental illness with the full understanding, care and support that they deserve.

The unfortunate reality is that those battling mental illness are likely to endure higher unemployment, have worse physical health, live in poorer housing and suffer discrimination in many areas of their lives.

As a government, we want to play our part to revitalise mental health services and policy in this state, while also changing the conversation about mental health for the better.

In line with our election commitments, we have initiated a Commission of Inquiry into the closure of the Barrett Adolescent Centre. This is not purely a backward-looking exercise – the recommendations of this inquiry will guide our way forward to the best treatment for people with conditions similar to those of the former patients at the centre.

Last April, we took the first step to rebuilding youth mental health support by allocating $11.8 million to commission two four-bed youth residential rehabilitation units and two two-bedroom self-contained family accommodation facilities in Townsville. We have also selected a new site in Cairns for a short-term residential facility.

But there remains much to be done in the mental health space and not just for young people.

In the past year we have opened five new Community Care Units in Bundaberg, the Sunshine Coast, Rockhampton, Toowoomba and Cairns.

Community Care Units are modern, residential facilities that provide on-site 24/7 support and rehabilitation for mental health sufferers. Unlike the institutions of old, they operate within our community and are barely distinguishable from other residential dwellings. They help people recovering from severe mental illness to rebuild their life skills in a supportive environment.

We’re also taking action to reduce suicide in our community. Last year, in conjunction with the Queensland Mental Health Commission, we released a Suicide Prevention Action Plan; Queensland’s first suicide prevention strategy in over a decade, outlining 42 actions the State Government will take to help reduce the rate of suicide.

One of those actions was to improve prevention training for staff in emergency departments in our state’s public hospitals.

I became convinced of the need for this after I met with Kerrie Keepa who, after suffering terrible tragedy in her family, became an advocate for this positive change in our health system.

Kerrie has established a new charity, SOS FAST, to keep momentum going in this important area.

As a government, we don’t have all of the answers to address mental health issues. But we are committed to taking action and with the help of advocates like Kerrie Keepa and Carol da Costa-Roque, all Queenslanders can play a role in improving mental health support in our community.

Cameron Dick MP is Queensland’s Minister for Health

This article first appeared on ‘Courier Mail’ on 2 March 2016.

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