Politics — 31 December 2012

One of Australia’s leading mental health specialists says state and federal governments are moving dangerously slowly on their promises for better treatment.

In last year’s budget the Federal Government promised $2.2 billion for mental health reform including money for early prevention.

So-called Early Psychosis Prevention Intervention Centres (EPICC) were part of the plan, designed to detect and treat mental illness in young people.

The state and territory governments have been asked to co-fund them.

But former Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry says results are not coming fast enough and adolescents with mental illnesses cannot afford to wait.

“This is a serious problem,” he said.

“State governments like Queensland have really not actually engaged in the process, meaning that Queenslanders and people around Australia – thousands of young people – are not getting access to these types of care which improve outcomes, and instead they’re required to just attend standard traditional adult systems of care which produce worse outcomes.”

Professor McGorry’s view is supported by distressed parents who are trying to find the treatment for seriously ill children.

‘Extremely serious’

One woman, who does not want to be named, says her 15-year-old daughter has serious mental health issues.

After her last suicide attempt, she was admitted to an adult psychiatric ward because it was the only option in their regional Queensland town.

Her mother says it is not an appropriate place for a teenage girl but she is worried about the alternative.

“She has made a number of serious attempts for suicide – complete suicide and on the last occasion, we came very close to losing her,” she said.

“Of course we don’t want our daughter to be where she is, but at the same time we have to work out some way that we can keep her safe long enough to get the treatment that she needs.

“The last attempt that she made, which was extremely serious, was made seven days after she was discharged from hospital.”

New South Wales, Western Australia, Victoria and the Northern Territory have put up their hands to build the treatment centres but the rest of the states and territories are yet to follow.

Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg says he is concerned with the cost of the centres, where they will be built, and their treatment plans.

But he is not ruling them out entirely.

“Are we prepared to work with the Commonwealth to actually modify the EPICC model to suit circumstances? Absolutely, and I’ve indicated that to the Federal Minister,” he said.

“Are we saying that the EPICC model in its entirety is not the way to go? No, what we’re saying is that it just needs to have some sort of modification and applicability to individual circumstances.”

In a statement, Federal Minister for Mental Health Mark Butler denies there has been a delay in getting the new services running.

Mr Butler says the first early prevention centres are expected to be open next year.

As first appeared on ABC News, 27 December 2012


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