Politics Sector News — 06 September 2015

Each year about four million Australians suffer mental ill-health at an estimated financial cost of $20 billion, but the personal cost cannot be tallied.

Now some of those who have suffered or lost loved ones are using people power to try to turn the situation around, and are launching a crowd-funding campaign to make it happen.

Australians for Mental Health is a new national campaign similar to Get-Up, and it aims to apply political pressure in the lead-up to the federal election.

They want all Australians to have access to quality mental health care in their communities and they plan to make it an election issue.

The taskforce driving the campaign is made up of people who have had or have lost someone to mental-ill health.

Prerna Diksha, 22, is a medical student at Melbourne University, and although she never planned to become involved in mental health, she is also a youth mental health advocate.

“My involvement basically began about four years ago when I lost my 16-year-old brother to suicide,” she said.

His death came out of the blue.

“It was as if we were woken up one morning and our entire world had turned upside down,” she said.

She discovered her family’s experience was a tragically familiar story.

“Suicide takes more lives than motor vehicle accidents,” she said.

Ms Diksha channelled her grief into action, campaigning for the establishment of a Headspace centre for youth mental health in her local area.

“Before I knew it, there were thousands and thousands of people who were really passionate about making sure that mental health was delivered to this small community,” she said.

“That’s when I realised what the power of a voice has in making a difference.”

Now she has joined other families who want one voice to become many through Australians for Mental Health.

Advocacy, not just awareness

The movement has gained the support of some of Australia’s leading mental health organisations including Orygen, headed by former Australian of the year, Professor Patrick McGorry.

“It is advocacy, it’s not just awareness,” he said.

“We’ve got heaps of awareness in Australia – now we want action.”

Professor McGorry said there was a strong financial argument to support investment in mental health and mental health research.

He said:

  • The suicide rate is at a 10-year high and is now the biggest killer of Australians aged between 15 and 44;
  • Seven people a day take their own lives and about 200 make an attempt; and
  • More than half of all Australians will experience some form of mental ill-health in their lifetime but less than half of them will access treatment.

Professor McGorry said mental ill-health was “the last frontier”.

“Access is depressingly poor and then access to what?” he said.

“Only 10 per cent of people diagnosed with depression accessed evidence-based care.

“If that was happening in breast cancer or any other form of medical illness there would be a national outcry.”

Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley said the Government was waiting for recommendations from an expert panel on how best to implement the Mental Health Commission’s recent review.

“The Government and I will make some strong statements about policy reform before the end of the year, and I look forward to the Parliament’s support,” she told Parliament in August.

“These reforms, as well as our key measures in the area of the NDIS, will make a positive difference to those experiencing mental ill-health, their families and their carers.”

A crowdfunding push to raise money for the campaign begins today.

This article first appeared on ‘ABC’ on 6 September 2015.

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