House debates

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Private Members' Business


11:05 am

Photo of Bridget ArcherBridget Archer (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges that Headspace was established by the Howard Government in 2006;

(2) notes that:

(a) there are currently 113 Headspace services operating nationally, including 54 services located in rural and regional Australia; and

(b) in 2018-19, the Government provided $95.7 million to commission Headspace services in rural areas;

(3) further acknowledges that in the 2019-20 Budget, the Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan was outlined with funding of $509 million; and

(4) congratulates the Government for announcing a further $64 million to provide suicide prevention and mental health initiatives.

More than 75 per cent of mental health issues develop before the age of 25. However, many traditional services aren't equipped to address the unique barriers that young people face in accessing mental health support. Headspace began in 2006 to address this critical gap by providing tailored and holistic mental health support for 12- to 25-year-olds. We know that youth mental health is especially important and that early intervention is the key to minimising lifelong impact. Most ongoing health conditions begin before the age of 25, and there are also many life pressures for young people as they make the transition to adulthood. Today, more than ever, these formative years can be confusing and difficult, and many young people find it hard to cope. Though mental health challenges do not always progress to suicidal thoughts or suicide, Tasmania has one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the country. That is something that so many in our community across public, private and community sectors are working hard to address.

In northern Tasmania, headspace in Launceston has been a constant and extremely necessary service since it opened its doors. I am a long-time advocate for increased mental health services for our region, and I'm proud of the government's record in supporting this much-needed service. With a focus on early intervention, headspace works with young people to provide health care and advice at a crucial time in their lives to help get them back on track and to build resilience for the future. At the heart of headspace centres is ensuring that young people can access expert health workers in a safe, confidential and youth-friendly environment.

Like all headspace centres across the country, my local headspace offers young northern Tasmanians support for mental health, with clinical professionals that provide support and treatment plans for a variety of mental health concerns, physical and sexual health. Many centres have on-site GPs who provide judgement-free medical advice and treatment. Headspace has alcohol and drug counsellors who work to address the complexities of alcohol and drug issues. Counsellors and vocational workers are also available to assist with a range of life skills such as managing workloads, dealing with stress, preparing job applications and career planning. Many of these services are funded via Medicare. In addition, headspace also offers eheadspace services; work and study programs; and headspace schools, a national workforce that supports, engages, and partners with education and health sectors across Australia to build mental health literacy.

Over the last decade, the federal government has provided significant funding for headspace Launceston to assist with the facilities and staff needed to meet the ever-increasing demand for mental health services. I appreciate the government's willingness to listen to the needs on the ground in my electorate and to respond accordingly. Just last year, we committed $630,000 to headspace Launceston to meet that growing demand from young people through the provision of extra clinical services such as structured psychological interventions, group interventions, family counselling and clinics. Specifically, the funding allowed for an additional clinical psychologist and a project officer—much-needed roles within the organisation. Just yesterday, Minister Hunt and Minister Colbeck announced that headspace Launceston will receive $1.567 million to undertake major refurbishments and expansion of the current site. This will create five additional consulting rooms, two family rooms, a group room, a lift for improved access to the second floor, increased group therapy and brief intervention clinic services, as well as extra student and GP registrar places.

From my regular discussions with headspace, I know this funding is needed more than ever. Between 1 April last year and 31 May this year, headspace Launceston provided services for over 1,100 young Tasmanians. For 485 of these visitors, it was their first time engaging with the organisation. As mentioned previously, the demand for services is ever-increasing, and I understand the pre-COVID wait times were lengthy. While there has been a drop, headspace Launceston is predicting its waitlist will increase again. I am committed to working with them and our government to continue to provide the funding needed to ensure our young people have access to the support that they need.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

11:10 am

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The motion is seconded. You can't talk about headspace and its role without considering the impact of COVID-19 on young people. I speak for an electorate where we already had high levels of anxiety which are disproportionate to the average levels in Western Sydney. We have young people already in pain, and that was before bushfires. Now we have COVID.

Now we have youth unemployment unlike anything we have seen, and we are likely to see more. For those aged 15 to 25, unemployment rose 13.8 per cent in the last statistics, up from 11.5 per cent. The figure is more than double that of national unemployment, which was at 6.2. Those figures don't take into account the hundreds of thousands of people who've given up on looking for work and therefore aren't included in the unemployment figures. Of course, that's the case in the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury, where small businesses were ravaged by fire. Whether it was their business or their property, there were impacts that have led to fewer jobs in small businesses already prior to COVID. These new figures demonstrate that young people are disproportionately affected by COVID restrictions, with many working in sectors like hospitality and tourism, which have been completely shut down. That would be the economy of the Blue Mountains and some of the Hawkesbury.

The figures also come as young people are experiencing, even without all these things, working conditions that are so precarious that society seems to deem them a rite of passage, like insecure hours that simply don't cover living expenses. So they're finding themselves at or below the poverty line, and possibly in a debt trap. We know that job losses and financial hardship generally hit young casual workers hardest during an economic downturn, and that is certainly what we're seeing. According to the Grattan Institute, 15- to 19-year-olds are most likely to lose their job in the shutdowns of non-essential services, and 20- to 29-year-olds are in the category next most likely to be affected. Three of the six industries that have had reduced staff hours most due to COVID are hospitality, retail, and the arts and recreation. Again that expands the economic impact on places like the Blue Mountains. You're looking at a region that relies very heavily on international visitors, as do the mountainous sections of the Hawkesbury. While those international borders are closed, we know we can't recover. We can't return to normal until that happens.

For all those reasons, we can't talk about mental health without talking about the realities of unemployment. Countless young Australians are falling through the welfare cracks, and I've had many students contact me, like Laura from Springwood, who has fallen through the eligibility criteria for jobseeker and JobKeeper. Like Laura, young people are more likely to work casually so that they can maintain study commitments. More than one-quarter of these young workers have been with their current employer less than 12 months, which makes them ineligible for the federal government's JobKeeper payment. For Laura, it was even more galling. She'd just negotiated to move to part-time, but she just missed out on doing that. So this negatively impacts their financial situation and reduces their chances of being able to return to work soon. It also increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide. That's where headspace will hopefully come in in the Blue Mountains.

When you add to all of these conditions the bushfires, you probably start to understand my eagerness to see the first headspace in my electorate open—now, hopefully, in July. Parramatta Mission, working with Wentworth Healthcare, will lead the establishment of it in Katoomba—a satellite site; not a full-service site. Even when I made the commitment of a full-service headspace for the Mountains over a year ago, I didn't imagine coronavirus and the social and economic impact that it would have, so I think we all need to be mindful that, given this is just a satellite headspace, demand may well outstrip supply in coming months and we need to watch that very closely. I appreciate that the headspace team, whom I've had very good discussions with, have worked closely with existing youth mental health and youth support services, but the links between mental health services, training and job opportunities will be more important than ever for our region. This headspace could be a lifesaver for our young Upper Blue Mountains people. The question has to be asked: why isn't there one in the Hawkesbury?

11:15 am

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm sure all in this place can agree on the importance and need to ensure that capacity for mental health services is there to assist the young people in our community who are struggling with that. I speak on this from a firsthand basis, seeing the effect of poor mental health on my nieces and nephews. We know that it is critical for their personal wellbeing—and, as I said, I've seen that firsthand—and we see the effects on their education, their employment, their relationships, their families and even their physical health. That is why, going back to 2006, the Howard government first established headspace, and it's why this government is investing even more in mental health and, importantly, headspace services, right across Australia.

I'm pleased to say that, locally, we're delivering over $1.6 million to establish a new headspace service in Upper Coomera, which is set to open in July this year. This was a commitment that I made to the people of Forde during the 2019 election after speaking with many young people and families who call the northern Gold Coast home. This region is one of the fastest-growing communities in Australia, and I know this new headspace service will be a welcome addition to the area. The new centre will be a one-stop shop for young people who need help with mental health, physical health, alcohol and other drug addictions, and work or study support.

This addition to the national headspace network comes at a critical junction in our nation's history as we respond to and recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The disruption caused and the increasing isolation felt by many have, no doubt, led to more Australians requiring mental health support. I'd like to share the experience of an existing local headspace in my electorate, at Meadowbrook, and how they have continued to support young people in Forde during this challenging time. Headspace Meadowbrook has supported over 700 young people and provided over 1,600 occasions of service since the beginning of March. This represents a 10 per cent increase in the number of young people accessing services and a five per cent increase in occasions of service over the same period last year. While they've seen an increasing number of walk-ins or young people with complex issues coming in without a prearranged appointment, the main presentation at their service in recent months has been anxiety which has been compounded by the impact of coronavirus on their lives.

Fortunately, headspace services were able to continue online as young people moved from face-to-face services to telehealth appointments, which have been well-received by the community. Johanna, the operations manager at headspace Meadowbrook told me that the new MBS telehealth codes have enabled headspace to continue to provide a safe service for their staff and young people during what has been a difficult time for everyone. In fact, moving to telehealth has actually resulted in increased attendance, especially for the young people who previously might have had difficulties in getting to the centre for face-to-face appointments.

This is why we're building more headspace services across Australia. We're investing some $375 million to strengthen the headspace network and establish an additional 30 new services across the country to bring services closer to those who need them most. We're also delivering more funding to expand and extend the very successful programs that support young people to overcome their mental health challenges—programs like the individual placement and support trial and the Youth Early Psychosis Program at headspace Meadowbrook. We're delivering over $2.2 million to deliver these early-intervention programs that are critical to ending the systemic welfare dependency issues in my electorate of Forde that result from the mental health issues that many, sadly, face. Again, we do this because we want these young people to be healthy and be engaged in education and employment. That will enable them to be the best that they can be, lead the best lives they can lead and be positive contributors to our community, which I know they can be.

I want to thank all of the wonderful counsellors, psychologists, social workers and many others in the sector for the amazing support they provide to the youth in Forde. Your work now is more important than ever. Thank you.

11:20 am

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Youth mental health and suicide are critically important to all of us. They're not partisan issues. Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy for the person who dies and for all who loved that person. Suicide reverberates over years and a lifetime. The motion talks to the money allocated, which is well and good, but it's not the point; it's the outcomes that matter. The fact is that, despite more than a decade of focus, youth suicide rates in Australia are still rising. The outcome that really matters is going in the wrong direction. In the decade to 2018, Australian per-capita suicide rates for people aged nought to 24 years have increased approximately 49 per cent, from 279 lives lost in 2009 to 458 lives lost in 2018.

The causes of suicide are complex, but, in considering what we should do as a society, there can be no sacred cows or practices that can't be challenged. In that spirit, I draw to the House's attention an important peer reviewed academic paper by Whitely, Raven and Jureidini, published this Monday. The paper finds that, over the same decade that suicide rates for young Australians have steadily increased, the prescribing rates of antidepressants for child adolescents and young adults have also increased, by 66 per cent. From 2008-09 to 2018-19, the proportion of Australians aged nought to 27 years using antidepressants grew from 2.9 per cent to 4.8 per cent. Especially concerning is the fact that not one antidepressant has been approved by the TGA for use by children in Australia to treat depression, yet in 2017-18 at least 101,000 Australian children—that is, 1.8 per cent of all Australian children—were dispensed an antidepressant. The overwhelming majority are prescribed by GPs, not by psychiatrists. All the while, youth suicide rates are rising.

As of 2015, the explosion in the prescribing of antidepressants has made Australians the second-highest users of antidepressants of any country, behind only Iceland. Correlation is not causation, but, with 10 years of data going in the wrong direction, we can't ignore this issue. The paper states:

These results do not support claims that increased antidepressant use reduces youth suicide risk. They are more consistent with the FDA warning and the hypothesis that antidepressant use increases the risk of suicide and self-harm by young people.

That is in aggregate, obviously. The FDA reference refers to the action by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2004 and 2007, when it controversially issued a 'black box' warning—its highest warning level—that antidepressants were associated with the increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviours in young people. The Australian TGA, though, is taking a far softer approach.

Raising this, saying this, is controversial. It seriously questions the whole of Australia's mental health establishment. People like Professors McGorry and Ian Hickie, and organisations like headspace, Beyond Blue, Suicide Prevention Australia and Orygen are no doubt good people and organisations genuinely striving to improve the situation, but they must never be beyond challenge or question. It is time to ask some confronting questions. Have Australia's leading suicide prevention organisations, experts and psychiatric thought leaders got it horribly wrong? Despite their good intentions, could the current prescribing epidemic have contributed to the avoidable deaths of young Australians?

I'm not an expert, and I don't pretend to know the right answers, but this peer-reviewed paper published this week should ring alarm bells. It contains numerous specific examples which raise serious concerns that the elite of Australia's mental health establishment have, for years, made up their minds that antidepressants reduce suicidality risks. They refuse to even discuss mounting evidence that challenges their longstanding view. I'm told that it's taboo to even talk about it in the sector. We cannot draw conclusions based on this new data, but the established wisdom must be re-examined by open minds through an inquiry that is not led or comprised solely by the current elite and vested interests. It's to his credit that the Prime Minister told his first meeting of his new cabinet in June last year that this government would be the curse-breakers of youth suicide. But rather than congratulating themselves for spending money, government MPs should focus our debates on why the rates of youth suicide are increasing.

In closing, I want to touch briefly on the fact that no antidepressants are approved for use to treat depression in children—of course, it's difficult to get ethical approval for clinical trials on children, so off-label prescribing is widespread—and appropriately so. I believe we need an urgent re-examination of the real-world evidence, which, in discussions with the experts, will require better systems to collect the relevant data. You can have a look over the last 10 years and effectively do something approximating a clinical trial in retrospect. Off-label prescribing is a much broader problem, which requires its own examination.

11:25 am

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a pleasure to rise in the chamber today to talk about an issue that I'm personally passionate about, and that is the mental health of all Australians but particularly those in my electorate of Ryan. It could not be more important as we face the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the things I've done over the last couple of months is reach out to all the residents in my electorate of Ryan to talk to them about some of the services that are available if they are facing mental health challenges or if they just feel that sense of loneliness and anxiety that we all get from time to time, particularly at times like this. It is a great pleasure to support my good colleague the member for Bass on this excellent motion and to pay testament to the wonderful workers who work as part of the headspace staff. We know almost one in five Australians will face a mental health challenge every year. Youth mental health is particularly important. More than three-quarters of ongoing mental health conditions develop before the age of 25, so that is the period, between 18 and 25, when direct intervention is so, so important. Headspace fills that particular role. Established in 2006, under the Howard government, it addresses this critical period by supporting children, young people, aged 12 to 25, with their needs. There are currently over 114 headspace services operating nationally. They've supported more than 500,000 young Australians with, or at risk of, mild to moderate mental illness to help them strengthen their wellbeing and mental health.

The Morrison government is a strong supporter of this service, as I am. On 9 January 2019, the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, announced an additional funding of $47 million for our headspace services nationally, including, importantly, $2 million over five years to deliver the young ambassadors for mental health program—young people reaching out to other young people and encouraging them to seek assistance if they need it. There's a $509 million youth mental health and suicide prevention plan outlined in the 2019-20 federal budget from this government, including $375 million for headspace and, importantly, $152 million to reduce wait times and enhance the quality of services at headspace sites. Some headspace centres are experiencing high demand and have long wait times for young people to access services, including in my own electorate—the service at Taringa has that wait time—and this incredibly important funding will help us reduce those wait times.

Headspace is well recognised and well respected as a support network around Australia and particularly in my electorate of Ryan, where we have a tremendously hardworking service located at Taringa. The Taringa headspace vision is to improve young people's mental, social and emotional wellbeing through the provision of high-quality integrated services and support that young people need, and every day they work their guts out to deliver that vision. Prior to COVID-19, I had the opportunity to visit the centre as they celebrated their fifth birthday, their fifth year in operation. Several past patients of the service told their stories, talked about their journeys from day one, the incredibly difficult act of reaching out and seeking help, what it felt like to be listened to by the headspace staff, and how their lives and their confidence changed because of the work and the interactions that they received at headspace. It was incredibly powerful to listen to.

Over the past five years, headspace Taringa in my electorate have supported over 3,415 young people. That's over 21,120 service visits, which is well above the national average for headspace centres. In fact, in the latest 12-month period alone, headspace Taringa supported more than 1,380 local young people—such is the terrific work that they're doing. That's 1,380 people who all share that story of reaching out, receiving help and having their lives changed by this one centre. They speak about the uncertainty they have in their lives and the anxiety of not knowing the future or the next step. It is something that we all experience from time to time. I'm so proud that the staff of headspace in my electorate are there to support young people locally.

At a time, with COVID-19, when we are facing so much uncertainty—more uncertainty than normal—it is more important than ever for young people who feel like they need that support and assistance to reach out. There are services available, particularly at headspace at Taringa. I would like to pay testament and tribute to, and thank, all of the workers at headspace Taringa for the wonderful work they do. Please keep it up. If you need support, please reach out.

11:30 am

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I commend the government for its focus on mental health and suicide prevention. Appointing Dr Ruth Vine as Deputy Chief Medical Officer shows its dedication to tackling this condition that affects almost half of all Australians. 'Black summer' and now COVID-19 have seen rising levels of anxiety across the community. There is no better time to talk about mental health, and I thank the member for Bass for her motion today.

There are 54 headspaces across rural Australia, each providing a welcoming and safe place for 12- to 25-year-olds to access holistic support. The Albury Wodonga headspace opened in 2015 after a 10-month community campaign following the tragic suicide of several young people. Annette and Stuart Baker were among the leaders of the campaign. They lost their beautiful and much-loved daughter Mary after a long battle with an eating disorder—the mental illness with the highest mortality rate of all.

This groundswell of action continues to have a profound impact across my electorate. For the last seven years we've gathered on the winter solstice to shine a light on the darkest night and address the stigma of suicide. Thousands of people come together to share music, poems and speeches. It's always freezing cold in QEII Square in Albury—symbolic of the pain and grief of families and friends of those we have lost. It is a moving and collective response to this devastating illness. This year, we will gather online for the event, with speeches by Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons and Lauren Jackson, and performances from Angie McMahon and the Northern Folk. I have the great honour of reciting a poem by Bruce Dawe. I thank the many sponsors for making this event possible, including Wodonga Senior Secondary College, Hume Bank, Smart Hospitality, EBA Hire and Kwik Kopy Albury.

The Winter Solstice came about after the suicide of a young woman suffering from an eating disorder. This heartbreaking and isolating condition is the one of the most difficult to treat, and in rural Australia we simply don't have the services and support to adequately respond. Meryl Wilcox, founder of the North East Eating Disorders Support Group, wrote to me yesterday to share the reality of those in our region. She wrote:

Ongoing challenges include access, affordability, equity, lack of trained health professionals, minimal services, no specialist care, and lack of outpatients or day programs. In our rural region, access to care is seriously low. Having to travel outside your home town is a significant barrier, and our nearest in-patient care is at minimum four hours away. This provides both suffers and carers with increased financial, emotional and social costs. Once discharged from in-patient care, the sufferer is left to return locally to an almost non-existent system, and then obligated to navigate recovery alone at such a vulnerable time and critical time. Invariably this often results in relapse.

With her lived knowledge of local needs, Meryl has called for the creation of a local eating disorder coordinator for day services and programs based locally and peer-mentoring services. These initiatives will increase access and support, and help individuals recover in their home environment. I strongly support them and call on the government to ensure access and equity for rural and regional sufferers of eating disorders.

Headspace is a fantastic initiative, but the waiting time to access services has been a serious concern. The waiting time after first seeking help is one of the most high-risk times for young people. Last year, 90 per cent of headspace centres reported major challenges in meeting demand for services, with the main reason being workforce availability of mental health clinicians, GPs and private practitioners. Rural health workforce shortage is a perennial issue which successive governments have failed to solve. We see the real consequences of this each and every day. What works is training local practitioners from local areas to live in and work for their community. Charles Sturt and La Trobe universities in my electorate have a health focus, but are facing an uncertain future. Losing them would be disastrous for our region.

I'm thrilled that Albury Wodonga headspace will share in the $24.2 million allocated to reduce these wait times. But if we don't have a workforce ready to meet the need, this well-intentioned funding might be needless. This need extends to places where headspace does not exist, including Myrtleford, where mental health services are provided to students at school. I call on the government to connect the dots and invest in a rural workforce and ensure that rural and regional Australians have the support to address and overcome mental health conditions and live full and healthy lives.

11:35 am

Photo of Fiona MartinFiona Martin (Reid, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak today on the motion put forward by the member for Bass regarding the government's expansion of the headspace network. The headspace network, established in 2006 by the Howard government, has continued to be a central component of the government's vision for youth mental health services. There are currently 114 headspace services nationally, including 54 headspace services located across regional Australia. Headspace centres act as a one-stop-shop for young people, providing mental health support as well as focused services for physical and sexual health, alcohol and other drugs, and work and study counsellors.

Last year, as the Liberal candidate for Reid, I had the pleasure of visiting our electorate's closest headspace service, in the suburb of Ashfield, in the inner west of Sydney, along with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Mrs Morrison. There, in person, I witnessed the vision first established in 2006 now working in practice: a place that offers early intervention and support for young people in one of the most formative periods of their lives.

The Morrison government is the committed to expanding the network so that it can continue to reach young people across the nation. We've provided Primary Health Networks with $122.3 million of federal funding to commission headspace services within their regions.

Prior to entering parliament, I worked for many years as an educational and developmental psychologist and worked closely with young people and their families. During this time, I saw firsthand how improving the mental health of young people by giving them the tools, resources and support they need is essential to their future success and resilience. I often used to tell my clients, 'Life is not the absence of problems, but the ability to deal with problems, and so coping skills are very important to building resilience.'

I'm proud to be part of a government now that has made mental health a key priority, to bring this vision to fruition. In 2018, we committed $50.8 million to headspace to ensure its sustainability going into the future, and to help the headspace network support the demands for its services. More than three-quarters of ongoing mental health conditions begin before the age of 25; one in five Australians face a mental health challenge every year in Australia. It is very important that we prioritise a strategy of not only prevention but also early intervention to give young people the support they need to look after their mental health. The government's $509 million Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan places the wellbeing of Australians front and centre. From this funding, new headspace sites will be expanded, focusing on regional and rural areas, and will bring the number of services nationally to 153 by 2022.

At the start of this year, the Australian government announced a further $64 million in suicide prevention and mental health initiatives directed to youth mental health and suicide prevention. One initiative is the headspace Schools Suicide Prevention Activities Program. This complements the important work being done through headspace, schools and the national workforce with education and health initiatives that also support partners across Australia to build mental health literacy. Their work covers a variety of initiatives, including education programs aimed at promoting and protecting positive mental health in youth, as well as provides support for schools to prepare for, respond to and recover together where there has been a death by suicide.

In order to reduce youth suicide, headspace also delivers face-to-face training and education sessions to staff, students, parents and carers to help schools support the mental health needs of young people and their families. Headspace work and study programs provide support for 15- to 25-year-olds to plan a career, find employment or work towards further education. From one-on-one support with a career specialist to linking in with industry specific mentors, the work and study programs provide free expert and tailored support for those looking beyond their studies.

I commend the Morrison government for its continual focus on evidence-based mental health policy, for creating expansive services that promote mental health literacy to young people. Early intervention and prevention are the keys to good mental health, and the headspace network is equipped now, more than ever, in delivering these services.

11:40 am

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.