Monday, 22 February 2021
I rise today to speak on the important work that the Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention will be undertaking in coming months. I am proud that the Prime Minister has named me as the chair of the committee, and I will be working alongside a number of esteemed colleagues in addressing the need for significant reform in our mental health system.
One in five Australians aged 16 to 85 experiences a mental illness in any year, and, sadly, suicide is the leading cause of death for young Australians, accounting for over one-third of deaths among people aged 15 to 24. When I joined the Morrison government in 2019, I was joining a government that, for the first time, had made the mental health and wellbeing of Australians a national priority. The timing of this was imperative. Who could have predicted that last summer's bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic would worsen the epidemic of poor mental health in our nation?
As a mental health professional I felt compelled to run for public office, because I felt I had significant contributions to make in this space. In my first speech, I stated my intention to bring my 20 years of experience to my role as a parliamentarian, in the hope that I could address the evidence-policy gap. I am pleased that my views have been echoed in the findings of the Productivity Commission inquiry report into mental health. The focus of the report is on evidence based solutions and on prevention and early intervention. In my first speech, I also highlighted the need to place a strong emphasis on prevention and early intervention to address a range of mental health conditions.
The Productivity Commission report identified that a preventative approach must take place early in life and early in the course of an illness. This means focusing on the mental health of children and families, particularly by using schools and tertiary education and employment as places that can better support emotional wellbeing and psychological safety. This way, a person will have mental health support available throughout their entire life and will learn the skills for self-care, emotion regulation and help-seeking behaviour from a young age.
Since I was elected I have advocated for schools to play an important role in implementing mental health programs to address concerns or aggressive behaviours from a young age. This will play a significant role in reducing poor mental health among young people as well as preventing other concerning societal factors. For instance, these same mental health programs can play a part in breaking intergenerational cycles of domestic violence. We know that children who witness or experience domestic violence are more likely to become victims or perpetrators of domestic violence in their adult years. Utilising well established evidence based approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy can help to reduce the underlying psychological symptoms associated with those who go on to engage in controlling behaviours, especially where these behaviours have been learned at home from a young age.
The mental health of parents has a strong influence on the wellbeing of their young children. Last year the Morrison government invested $550,000 over two years to support children and young people who have a parent or guardian with a mental illness. This has allowed the Satellite Foundation, in partnership with Emerging Minds, to support children of parents with mental illness through targeted programs and an expanded peer-support network. It is important that we recognise this.
Our mental health is shaped by nature and nurture. Supporting the mental health of parents means supporting the mental health of their children as well. I have been vocal in this place about the need for greater support for mental health in the perinatal period. The Productivity Commission's report reflected this, identifying a need to better support children and families, particularly in a major life transition such as pregnancy or in the perinatal period. One in five women experiences anxiety in the perinatal period, and one in 10 new fathers or partners experiences perinatal depression or anxiety. The solution may mean engaging maternal and child health services online, as well as screening and outreach services to detect problems and improve mental health.
There is clearly much work to be done, but I am eager to begin. I will ensure, through my role as the committee chair, that the focus will be driven by emerging evidence based approaches to early detection, diagnosis, treatment and recovery through an improved mental health system.
House adjourned at 20:00