House debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2022


Mental Health

7:40 pm

Photo of Melissa McIntoshMelissa McIntosh (Lindsay, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak about mental health in Australia. As shadow assistant minister for mental health and suicide prevention I have worked, since coming into this role, to maintain a constructive working relationship with the government that's focused on lessening suffering and advocating sensible policy reforms.

All of us will know someone who is experiencing depression or mental illness. Many of us will know someone who, unfortunately, and very sadly, has committed suicide. Some of us will know someone in our professional circles who has, tragically, taken their own life. I acknowledge the mental health professionals who work to deal with and work so passionately on mental health issues throughout our nation. I express my thanks and gratitude for the work they do and for the support they provide to our communities. I am so pleased that you are there on the front line, through the pandemic and through the disasters that our country has faced, to support the mental health of Australians.

I commend their work to provide a link between mental health services and schools to facilitate early recognition of and intervention in depression and related disorders amongst young people. Whilst engaging with mental health and suicide prevention stakeholders, I've been quite troubled by the struggles that young Australians are facing today. The National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing discovered that almost two in five people aged 16 to 24 had a 12-month mental health disorder. I would be encouraged to see an expanded role for organisations such as Head to Health—a rollout of kids' centres across the country—and of course headspace to better meet this missing middle that we are seeing right now.

I understand that suicide rates are often highest two to three years after a crisis, pandemic or natural disaster, and many communities across our country are now coming to terms with the conditions they have faced.

I am pleased also as deputy chair of the health committee, alongside Dr Freelander, on the other side of this place, that it will be conducting an inquiry, the very first of its kind in Australia, on the impacts of long COVID and repeat COVID infections. It's my hope that through this inquiry we are able to gain a better understanding of the impact of COVID on mental health in order to better meet need and to futureproof our health system.

There are high levels of distress across our communities in Australia, including my own community of Lindsay. Now is a significant time for mental health, and it's important that we take a direction forward that not only saves more lives but improves the quality of life for Australians.

To sincerely address mental health issues, I am of the view that we need to be focused on the causes, the social factors of mental health issues themselves. This involves full attention in every aspect of government decision-making within the full breadth of the portfolios available. My focus is to ensure that this happens, and I will not hesitate to make representations, as I have done, to Assistant Minister McBride and to Minister Butler to ensure they deliver on mental health outcomes and prioritise suicide prevention. We must ensure every government decision makes a positive contribution to the mental health of Australians and prevents mental health issues being exacerbated. I have now seen both coalition and Labor governments include mental health and suicide prevention in their ministries. Bipartisan, ongoing support is essential to drive real and meaningful change.

While there has been encouraging progress—and I would like to acknowledge Minister Hunt for his work in the mental health space, as well as Prime Minister Morrison—

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! This is the second time. On the first occasion when referring to colleagues in the House the member for Macarthur was mentioned. Could you refer to them by their seats? I think Mr Hunt we could do as he's a former member now. Thank you.

Photo of Melissa McIntoshMelissa McIntosh (Lindsay, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention) Share this | | Hansard source

Sure. While there has been encouraging progress over the last couple of years, of which we can be proud, there is still a lot of work to be done. We can't ignore the challenges that we face as a nation when it comes to mental health. Albeit from opposition, my clear focus is to accelerate progress and encourage the government to deliver national structural and much needed policy reform at a time when our country needs it most.