Monday, 10 September 2018
Private Members' Business
I'm very pleased to speak on this motion, but it is a very sad point to discuss. The leading cause of death for young Australians aged 16 to 24 is not car accidents, it's not alcohol-fuelled violence and it's not cancer; it is suicide. For every death, every completed suicide that occurs, there are 200 young people who either attempt or contemplate suicide. In my community, we have had townships that have been rocked by suicide. There is a ripple effect from the loss of so many lives. It causes such immeasurable loss for families, for parents—I don't know how they can go on—for the network of friends, for the local school, for workplaces, for our whole community. We all grieve the loss of lives gone far too soon.
In light of those statistics, I was relieved to hear the Minister for Health announce the government is committed to making the mental health of young Australians a priority. With that commitment in mind, I want to read one of the key findings from a recent Mission Australia report into the mental health of young people in regional and remote Australia. Mission Australia said:
Mental health knows no geographical … boundaries; however, the provision of services does.
We know that young Australians are suffering in silence, both in townships and in the country. We know it makes no difference where you live. However, the regional divide does make all the difference with respect to the opportunity for young people to manage those mental health issues and to seek support and get access to services. We know that, sadly, the risk of suicide increases as the distance from the major cities increases. Regional Australians like my constituents on the southern Fleurieu are battling long waiting lists, high costs of services and a frustrating lack of public transport. Their isolation exacerbates this issue. It is for these reasons that I am campaigning for a permanent headspace centre at Victor Harbour, and this report makes it clear that securing this service is absolutely critical.
In July this year I joined my community for a youth mental health forum in Victor Harbor. Across the three Fleurieu councils of Alexandrina, Victor Harbor and Yankalilla, we are home to more than 6,200 young people aged between 10 and 24. What was clear from the discussions was that the young people in the area desperately need the same services as their metropolitan counterparts. A few hours of service a week, an email address or a telephone number just don't cut it—it's not the same. We need face-to-face services and a headspace centre of our own, like the one that was recently opened in Mount Barker.
Securing a shopfront in Mount Barker took months of campaigning by our community, which I was very pleased to lead. It was eventually opened in December 2017, but the demand was so great that, even then, as soon as it opened there was an instant backlog of clients, and every day, some nine months later, the demand still shows no sign of abatement. For example, the youth complex care program has supported 682 clients in the Mount Barker office and a further 250 young people through outreach on the south coast. Even those in the complex care program, where needs are most acute, must still wait at least two to three weeks before they can see a clinician. Mental health knows no boundaries, but it would seem that access to affordable and age-appropriate mental health services does depend on your postcode, and for young people living on the Fleurieu access is incredibly difficult. This is just not good enough.
If the Morrison government is serious about the mental health of young people in the regions, it needs to commit to funding affordable and appropriate face-to-face services in the regions. The rollout of headspace services is not complete. We cannot say we have ticked this off. Many young people right across Australia are still desperately in need of face-to-face services. As I said, a phone call is simply not enough. We have a duty to support our young people in Australia, to provide them with the services and skills they need to equip them to become happy and productive members of our community. With the right supports for all young people, no matter their postcode, I believe our young Australians have the great capacity to live successful and fulfilling lives.
I will start my contribution to this motion on mental health by noting some of the statistics on mental health. They are both confronting and, as the member for Mayo just said, heartbreaking. It is important for the House to recognise that we have a national problem. The government deserves congratulations for the steps it has taken thus far, but it is taking a short-term approach that lacks a clear vision.
Around four million Australians aged 16 to 85 experience mental ill health, which represents about 20 per cent of adults, or one in five Australians. In addition, around 600,000 children and youths between the ages of four and 17 are affected by mental ill health. I note that, when I held a youth forum in my office recently, mental health was one of the biggest issues raised by those young Territorians. Incredibly, in the lucky country, our magnificent country, Australia, there are around 65,000 suicide attempts each year. That is almost 180 people a day. That is a cause for national shame. The Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that in 2016 suicide was the leading cause of death among all people aged 15 to 44 and the third-leading cause of death among those aged 45 to 54. Suicide continues to impact Indigenous communities disproportionately, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people twice as likely to die by suicide as non-Indigenous people. That is a statistic that adds to our national shame in relation to mental health. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in the 15-to-17-year age group have a suicide rate more than five times as high as their non-Indigenous peers. Unfortunately, in the Top End, in the community I represent, we have had a spate of youth suicides recently. That is why we are continuing to consult with the community in particular and to work with the trial site to ensure that we can do something about this national shame.
At the 2016 election, Labor's mental health policy had a strong focus on suicide prevention. It included adopting the National Mental Health Commission's recommendation to reduce suicide by over 50 per cent over 10 years. The health and welfare of our veterans remains a priority area for Labor and for me personally. We support the National Mental Health Commission's review into mental health services for our veterans, and we supported the establishment of the Senate inquiry into suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel.
I congratulate the government for adopting Labor's policy to roll out 12 suicide prevention trial sites across the country. I recently visited the Jamie Larcombe Centre in Adelaide and spoke with a number of mental health professionals and research professionals. I acknowledge Paul Flynn from the Hospital Research Foundation and Karen May from the PTSD centre of excellence, and also Mark Reidy, himself a veteran, for the great work that he is doing not only with Invictus but with local veterans in Adelaide and from around the country through The Road Home. Whilst in Adelaide I met with the incoming CEO of Soldier On. With Soldier On and the support of those others, we will establish in Darwin a facility to support our veterans and first responders as they struggle with issues to do with mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
I'm passionate about veterans' mental health but, as federal Labor's men's health ambassador, I also know how significant the issue of men's mental health is. It's an incredibly important issue for men to discuss, as men's health outcomes tend to be worse and, as we know, blokes don't tend to communicate as much about how they're feeling, so we've got a lot of work ahead of us. We need to do more to educate ourselves—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 12 : 15 to 12 : 29
As I rise to speak on this motion here today, it is estimated around four million Australians aged 16 to 85 are affected by mental ill health. This represents about 20 per cent or one in five Australians—that is, one in five people in each town or city, each workplace and each community. This covers a range of illnesses, from mothers struggling with postnatal depression to young people in schools, and from employees facing stress and anxiety in the workplace to some of our ethnic minority communities who face a high incidence of some conditions. The mental health of our LGBTIQ community is also of concern, with lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians twice as likely to have a high to very high level of psychological distress than their heterosexual peers. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in the 15 to 17 years age group have a suicide rate more than five times higher than their non-Indigenous peers. These are our people, and we must do more.
In 2016 the ABS revealed that suicide was the leading cause of death among all people aged 15 to 44 and the third most common cause of death among those 45 to 54 years of age. In 2016, 2,866 Australians died from suicide: 11.8 people in every 100,000; around eight people every single day; one person every three hours. There are around 65,000 suicide attempts each year in Australia. That's almost 180 people a day who want to end their lives. These statistics are heartbreaking and confronting.
Along Tasmania's north-west, in my electorate of Braddon, we have some of the highest rates of suicide in the country. We know that there is a prevalence of mental ill health among those living in regional, rural and remote areas. Tasmania's youth suicide rate is the highest in the country, which is why a Shorten Labor government would commit to restoring $4.5 million in funding to TAZREACH, which is a specialist access program that the Liberals cut in 2016, and to creating a headspace centre in Burnie.
There exists unspoken discrimination regarding mental health, like the vast inequalities in funding for research, and like the lack of mental health training for many health department staff. Whether in GP surgeries, outpatient clinics, emergency departments or our first responder units. Primary care professionals are telling us they need more training in mental health than they have. A lack of understanding of mental ill health seems to characterise parts of the social security system, and there is a willingness in this government to overpromise and underdeliver when it comes to providing care for those suffering from mental ill health.
The WHO predicts that by 2030 depression will be the leading cause of disease around the world. People can lose years off their lives as mental ill health undermines their physical health too, increasing their vulnerability in the face of cancer, heart disease and other killers. Mental health must be at the top of the agenda for this government and governments to come. When the new Prime Minister was asked on radio last week for his views on the fundamentalist Christian practice of gay conversion therapy, his response was:
… it's just not an issue for me and I'm not planning to get engaged in the issue.
Well, Prime Minister, allow me to be the first of many to tell you: it is an issue for you. It's an issue for the nearly five per cent of the Australian teenage homosexual population who live in fear of being subjected to a therapy that's been discredited by experts and can have dangerous and sometimes deadly consequences. Real leaders don't wash their hands of serious problems and say, 'That's got nothing to do with me.' They take a stand. They stand up for the mental health of our LGBTIQ population. They stand up and do more to tackle homophobia within religious organisations. They stand up and lead for the people, not fellow Christians. They stand up and vote with a clear conscience, not abstain or vote with a religious conscience.
Mental health is as much an economic challenge as it is a social challenge. The extra physical care necessitated by mental ill health costs the health system several extra million dollars a year. The criminal justice system also picks up the bill. More than one in four of our prison inmates report being on medication for a mental health disorder. Not just do our public services bear the brunt of mental ill health; Australian businesses do too, in time off work and unproductive days at work. Mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces $4.7 billion in absenteeism and $145 million in compensation claims. This costs our economy much more than we can afford. Labor knows there is much to do to ensure Australians living with mental ill health have access to the services they need no matter where they live. Good mental health doesn't start in hospital or the treatment room. It starts in our workplaces, our schools and our communities, and it starts with this government.