MENTAL health care in Australia is so poor that it’s costing the economy $35 billion a year, making it a much more pressing economic problem than tax reform, says Australia’s mental health commissioner Professor Allan Fels.
Even a modest 25 per cent improvement in care could deliver an $8.9 billion windfall to the economy, he told the National Press Club.
He said 87.5 per cent of the money spent on mental health went on income support, crisis care and prisons.
This was a “payment for failure”.
Instead, the money should be going towards programs that make the mentally ill better and get them back to leading productive lives.
By making an economic case for mental health reform, Fels is hoping to overcome political disinterest in the area.
His recent major report on mental health reform, commissioned by the government, was recently buried by Health Minister Sussan Ley, who has set up yet another consultation on what to do in the sector.
Prof Fels on Wednesday said reform was needed now because seven people a day are taking their lives — a rate that is twice the road toll.
People with a mental illness have a life expectancy 14-23 years shorter than those without a problem.
More than one in three people with a mental illness aren’t working, and mental illness among those who have a job is responsible for 12 million days of reduced productivity or absenteeism a year.
Prof Fels said money had be redirected out of crisis care in hospitals and into local programs that help people in their community.
There needed to be early detection of mental health problems, early intervention and much stronger community support programs that keep people put of hospital and finds secure accommodation for the most severely affected.
The new primary health networks that co-ordinate GP and community health care should be renamed primary and mental health networks, he says.
This article first appeared on ‘News.com.au’ on 6 August 2015.