Tony Abbott launches a bleak report on mental health
19 October 2005
Tony Abbott, Federal Minister for Health and Aging, acknowledged that “all is not well behind the white picket fence” as he launched a report into mental health care today co-authored by the University’s Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI).
Not For Service: Experiences of Injustices and Despair in Mental Health Care in Australia, which was launched at the BMRI, is the most significant report into mental health in Australia for over a decade, claim its authors.
Compiled by the Mental Health Council of Australia and the BMRI, in association with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the report consists of more than 1000 pages of personal stories of people with mental illness and their families and carers, along with the views of doctors, nurses, police and others caring for the mentally ill. The very public case concerning the illegal detention of Cornelia Rau was one such instance of injustice and despair that prompted the report.
Mental disorders account for 15.5 per cent of Australia’s disease burden – third only to cardiovascular diseases and tumors – and yet it attracts only 7 per cent of the health budget. “Mental health disorders account for 60 per cent of all health disabilities affecting young people aged between 15 and 34,” said Ian Hickie, executive director of the BMRI and Professor in Psychiatry.
Professor Hickie argued that the national priority should be early intervention. “Just as we try to catch a breast lump in its early stages, so too must we diagnose and treat the first signs of mental illness,” he told an audience including Federal MP Julia Gillard, the Shadow Minister for Health.
Australia urgently needs all governments to commit to a process of genuine and well-resourced reform, said Professor Hickie. “What we do not need is continued blaming of those who use the services, those professionals who provide the services or those independent bodies who report on them.”
One of the report’s recommendations urges all Australian governments to increase expenditure on mental health care services by 1 per cent per annum for the next five years to reach 12 per cent of total health care funding and that funding to NGO services increase from 6 per cent to 15 per cent.
Mr Abbott conceded that even the best administrators can succumb to the “ivory tower mindset”, where politicians and bureaucrats lose touch with the struggle and despair of certain groups within the community. He concluded by saying he would “do his best to take up the challenge” and that “it is also everyone’s challenge”.