House debates

Monday, 25 October 2010

Private Members’ Business

Mental Health

7:27 pm

Photo of Judi MoylanJudi Moylan (Pearce, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak to this motion of the member for Dickson. I think that we need to give the subject even greater airing than it has had in these last few months. I have been here longer than the member for Page and in 1996 I had responsibility as minister to roll out a national youth suicide prevention program. So we on our side have had quite a long commitment in dealing with this, albeit we probably still did not give it the continuity that it deserved. A number of us also pushed for the $1.5 billion that the Howard government injected into mental health in that last term in government.

I was pleased to hear the contribution of the member for Page and that of my colleague the member for Boothby on this subject because in 2010, frankly, mental health is still an issue that is frequently swept under the carpet in our country. It is incredible to think that a complaint that will affect over 45 per cent of Australians to some degree rates low on the list of priorities, particularly government priorities. Even when we heard the continued rhetoric about national health reform in the lead-up to the election, the government promised only $277 million over four years compared to the coalition’s commitment of $1.5 billion over the same period, an amount of over five times as much as the government. But funding alone is not the solution to effectively treat mental health. It must be targeted through innovative services, and I agree with the member for Page on that point. It must be targeted at an early stage to those who need it most.

There are many different types of mental illness, and we cannot just treat it as one homogenous illness. It manifests in so many different ways. It is like comparing a heart attack with a stroke or with kidney failure. We have to also understand that there are different types of mental illness, and they need different kinds of treatment and proper diagnosis. We have seen, through recent publicity, some very high profile cases and the terrible consequences of misdiagnosing mental illness and treating bipolar disorder as depression. These are very different mental illnesses. Many of them are life threatening in a very real way, and many of them are for a lifetime. As the member for Boothby said, it should be treated as a chronic illness because it is never going to go away; it has to be managed for the whole of life. We know some people go through periods of depression when adverse events happen in their life, and they might get over it with treatment within a few months or a few years. But some kinds of mental disorders are chronic illnesses that have to be treated for the whole of life, and that is often overlooked.

This is why the coalition’s commitment expressly mirrored the recommendations of the National Health and Hospital Reform Commission, particularly that:

… a youth friendly community-based service, which provides information and screening for mental disorders and sexual health, be rolled out nationally for all young Australians—

and that:

… the Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre model be implemented nationally so that early intervention … becomes the norm.

The coalition’s policy provides for 20 early psychosis intervention centres based on the EPPIC model and 800 mental health beds and, importantly, 60 additional youth headspace sites. Youth headspace deserves to be singled out because of the benefits it provides in catching demographics that do not usually seek assistance. Of every Australian that has a mental disorder, only 35 per cent actually get treatment—and I will come back to that shortly—compared with 80 to 90 per cent of people with physical health problems. In young people with a mental disorder, the percentage of those treated drops to 25 per cent and for young males, 15 per cent.

Mental health expert, Professor Patrick McGorry, commented in an ABC radio interview the day after being awarded Australian of the Year that the particularly low diagnosis and treatment of young people is ‘simply because we’ve dismissed it as part of growing up’. He noted:

… people say all the time to me, both at professional and public forums, how do you tell when your teenager or your young adult isn’t actually experiencing a mental disorder or a mental health problem for which they need some health or mental treatment?

Trying to answer that question is near impossible for parents. Instead, the focus of youth headspace is on providing a community based youth friendly, low stigma, one-stop shop where people who are experiencing mental health concerns can literally drop in and discuss their concerns with professionals in a supportive environment. From there, an appropriate diagnosis or course of action can be determined. At this one-stop shop individuals can also seek treatment for substance abuse problems.

In the last parliament I was part of the Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth, and we did a very good report on youth homelessness, Housing the Homeless. But it became abundantly evident during that inquiry into homelessness that so often the condition of many young people goes undiagnosed. Mental health issues then have a tendency to spiral out of control, and these events lead to homelessness, drug dependency and all the related general health issues. We took evidence of young people with anxiety disorders and behavioural issues that saw them kicked out of home at a young age, their undiagnosed disorders escalating along with increasing vulnerability. Some of these young people were 13 and 14, and they were living under bridges at that age. As a method of coping with the pain, this morphed into drug dependency, which leads to disruption of education, long-term unemployment and, too often, trouble with the law and prison. It is a great tragedy of isolation from mainstream community and family life and invariably leads to premature and life-threatening illness.

Data from the Youth Action and Policy Association notes that homeless youths are four times more likely to have mental health issues than youth in safe and secure environments. Statistics further show that 50 per cent of young people accessing housing or homeless agencies have one or more identifiable mental health issues. This data shows a great need for more appropriate support of supervised care than what already exists. The situation was highlighted just this weekend in the West Australian, which ran a story titled ‘Youth in distress’. In an interview with Merryn Kenderdine, who voluntarily admitted herself to the Way Centre in Bentley when she was a teenager a number of years ago, she explained:

I did not get a lot of help or treatment there … they were mainly making sure that I didn’t run away, kill myself or anything like that.

She said that patients were not let outside, and went on to say:

It was just this small courtyard where you could smoke … there was no sporting activity. You couldn’t go out and kick a ball. It was bare minimum.

Most worryingly, she said:

A lot these kids are left with a sense of fear of their illness itself and their life as a result of that experience. The other impact potentially is that if they run into strife in the future, they won’t access services because of the experience they had before.

Since Ms Kenderdine’s time at the facility, more funds have been committed by the state government, but the situation highlights the lack of overarching funding support and vision which can and should be provided by the Commonwealth. Speaking on radio in January, Professor McGorry outlined his view on why such support is not forthcoming. He believes we lack confidence and that it is a common position in Australia in mental health.

The COAG National Action Plan for Mental Health notes on page 18 that the first insights into the sheer number of people who receive no treatment for mental health disorders came from the national population surveys over a decade ago. These surveys showed that 11 per cent of Australians had a mental health disorder but received no treatment. The action plan surmises that, if the findings of a decade ago are generalised today, the number of Australians not being treated is 2.3 million individuals. Imagine if we failed to treat 2.3 million people with cancer, or 2.3 million people with heart conditions, or 2.3 million people who had had a stroke. Imagine the outcry. I think it has been too long that we have left mental health problems the poor relation to all other health problems. We have the architecture for change in place. All that is needed now is the political will to do something.


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