Politics Research — 09 June 2017

Most of the ACT mental health funding in this year’s budget will again go to the “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff”, rather than helping prevent people falling off the precipice.

While the government has put up about $1 million for a new Black Dog Institute-run suicide prevention program, most of the $23 million mental health package will be delivered to acute care services rather than community programs.

ACT Greens leader and Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury has touted investment in mental health, despite concerns it is directed to crisis services instead of prevention. Photo: Rohan Thomson

ACT Greens leader and Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury has touted investment in mental health, despite concerns it is directed to crisis services instead of prevention. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Some $2.3 million will go to the new Office of Mental Health; $13.8 million to the Dhulwa mental health unit; $2.6 million for child and youth mental health programs, and $500,000 to upgrade the Brian Hennessy rehabilitation centre.

Mental Health Community Coalition ACT executive officer Simon Viereck backed a number of investments but said not enough funding was directed to community programs to address and help prevent acute mental health issues.

“We appreciate it is important to invest in these initiatives and to open more rehabilitation beds at Dhulwa, but we think there’s been a lost opportunity to invest in the community-based supports that actually help keep people out of these beds,” he said.

He said the mental health sector – already reeling as the Commonwealth withdraws support as part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme changes – had been left without certainty in several areas.

While funding was put up for three key community programs; the Wayback suicide prevention program, the Detention Exit Community Outreach service and Headspace, it was only one year of support.

“It’s really hard to run a community-based sustainable, quality service on year to year funding and we were seeking recurrent funding for these programs,” he said.

“We were told part of it is due to the uncertainty of Commonwealth funding for Headspace, and the other two need to provide evaluations of their service before they can be considered for recurrent funding.

“But it’s very obvious that with the Wayback program at least, there is a high level of demand and it is delivering good outcomes.”

Mr Viereck said that across the mental health sector, the government’s approach in the 2017 budget seemed to be on delivering only election commitments and measures in the Labor-Greens parliamentary agreement, rather than on what services had called for.

“It’s got some positive aspects to it, but there’s certainly a range of initiatives we support and had urged the government support that we do feel left some of those untouched at this stage,” he said.

Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury said the focus of this year’s budget was on fulfilling election pledges and the parliamentary agreement, but some early intervention funding would help “make a significant difference”.

“The extension of the CAMHS Consultation Liaison Service within the Canberra Hospital to operate seven days per week will ensure young people will have access to specialist services when and where they are needed,” he said.

Mr Rattenbury said an expansion of the CAMHS primary school program would also provide more counselling to younger children with early signs of common mental health concerns.

While Mr Viereck said those were welcome programs, the overall funding mix in the 2017 budget was “continuing to target investments heavily in crisis-driven rehabilitation” instead of wider community programs.

“It would be much better if we stopped people dropping off the cliff instead of parking an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff,” he said.

This piece was first seen on ‘The Canberra Times’ 7 June 2017.

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