The federal government has made significant investments in mental health in this year’s budget, focused on suicide prevention, protecting older Australians and providing continuity of support for those ineligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Mental health emerged as one of the big winners from Tuesday’s federal budget, with the government committing an increase of $338 million in mental health funding.
There was also an investment of $37.6 million to expand beyondblue Way Back Support Service, which provides outreach, follow-up care and practical support to people discharged from hospital after a suicide attempt.
As revealed on Sunday, Lifeline will receive $33.8 million to support its telephone crisis services, while SANE Australia will receive $1.2 million.
The Medical Research Future Fund will be used to drive a new initiative called the Million Minds Mission, which involves $125 million invested over the next 10 years to research and support an additional million people with mental illness.
Health Minister Greg Hunt also detailed other budget measures focused on older and rural Australians.
“Men over 85 years of age have the highest risk of suicide for all ages. That’s why the government will deliver $82.5 million for psychological services in residential aged care, while mental health nurses will help develop and deliver a $20 million program to support older Australians in the community who are isolated and at risk,” Hunt said.
“The National Mental Health Commission will receive an increase of $12.4 million to oversee mental health reform and take an expanded role under the Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan.
“We will also fund the Royal Flying Doctor Service for mental health outreach, which will receive $20.4 million to ensure regional and rural Australians get care wherever they are.”
The social sector’s response to these measures has been broadly positive.
Beyondblue chair Julia Gillard welcomed the government’s funding boost, noting that up to a quarter of those discharged from hospital following a suicide attempt will try to take their own lives again in the next three months.
“That is why we need The Way Back,” Gillard said.
“It fills a gap in the health care system by supporting people through those critical first three months and helping them find their way back to hope by keeping them safe, connected and motivated to live.
“The Way Back Support Service is ready for a national roll out. I will be personally advocating to premiers and chief ministers that they join with Minister Hunt in getting behind the Way Back. If we all get behind this up to 28,000 people and their families will be supported to find a way back from suicide.”
SANE Australia CEO’s Jack Heath explained that the organisation would use its government funding to develop a pilot suicide prevention campaign.
“We are very pleased that the government has recognised the need to invest in new and innovative approaches to prevent suicide,” Heath said.
“This campaign will allow us to connect with vulnerable Australians who believe that the world is better off without them.”
Suicide Prevention Australia chair Matthew Tukaki said he was pleased with the mental health initiatives outlined in the budget.
“The funding allocations specifically for suicide prevention are encouraging,” Tukaki said.
“Suicide Prevention Australia and its members have long advocated for crisis support to be core funded infrastructure as well as investment in more effective hospital discharge planning and community care pathways.
“Suicide is a complex public health issue that requires long-term solutions. While the quantum of funding in suicide prevention is still yet to match the magnitude of the public health problem at hand, the 2018/19 federal health budget is a step in the right direction.”
But not all mental health services were happy with the budget.
GriefLine – Australia’s only dedicated loss and grief helpline – said it was disappointed to miss out on critical funding.
CEO Catherine Cini said: “Early prevention and the long aftermath of crises is often overlooked by government and this is the case with the 2018 federal budget.
“GriefLine’s forte is early prevention. We prevent or work with people before they hit crises points and therefore need services such as Lifeline.
“GriefLine was seeking just under $500,000 [a year] and we have been forgotten.”
An area of mental health which did receive funding was continuity of support for those ineligible for the NDIS.
Mental health advocates have consistently raised concerns that people with severe mental health issues were “falling through the gaps” of the NDIS, as the government acknowledged transition problems existed for many Personal Helpers and Mentors (PHaMs) service participants.
Community Mental Health Australia’s (CMHA) 2018-19 Federal pre-budget submission called for NDIS and mental health reforms to ensure appropriate services were accessible for people living with mental health conditions.
“It is CMHA’s position that people living with a mental health condition or psychosocial disability must be able to access and receive appropriate, high quality and coordinated support regardless of where that support is provided – that is whether they are eligible for the NDIS or not,” CMHA president Liz Crowther said.
In response to these concerns, the budget contained $92.1 million to provide continuity of support for those who are ineligible for the NDIS, but are in programs transitioning to the scheme.
CMHA executive director Amanda Bresnan told Pro Bono News this commitment was significant but noted a lack of clarity around the eligibility criteria and what a continuity of support service will look like.
“The Department of Social Services are continuing to argue people have to test their eligibility to access the support,” Bresnan said.
“CMHA has stated strongly and will continue to do so that people should not have to test their eligibility and that the intent of the continuity of support policy must be applied in that people must be provided with the same level of access to services.
“People shouldn’t have to go through an expensive and stressful test of NDIS eligibility in order to access the services they need and are entitled to. Preventing access is against Australia’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disability.”
— CMHA 🏳️🌈 (@CMHA2016) May 8, 2018
Anglicare Australia also fell short of fully supporting the continuity of support measures in their budget analysis.
“This continues to be the area of most concern for many Anglicare Australia members, particularly in services such as PHaMS. We have been given no additional measures about how this would occur, and the fact that the money does not reach full spend until 2019/20 is of concern.”
Mission Australia said they welcomed the announcement of continued support for participants of PHaMs and Partners in Recovery (PiR), as these programs transitioned to the NDIS.
“This investment is welcome and we now await the detail around the program to ensure that it is delivered in a way that best meets people’s mental health needs,” CEO James Toomey said.
“We know there are growing needs around mental health in our communities and a severe shortage of community based services, particularly for young people and in regional areas.
“People struggling with mental illness need the best shot at recovery, regardless of age and location and the government should be growing the services that help them stay well and contribute to their families and communities.”