This National Report 2020 highlights that mental illness and suicide continue to be significant public health issues in Australia and internationally. Poor mental health and wellbeing has substantial personal, economic, productivity and social impacts.
Complex challenges continue to face the Australian Government, state and territory governments, the private sector and the community to achieve better-coordinated and integrated support across a range of sectors and systems, and to ensure that all services are person and family centred. Timely access to quality mental and physical health treatment and care is important. However, to prevent mental health difficulties and enable recovery, individuals and their loved ones also need timely access to the right type of social, economic and community-based supports as a coordinated response.
As the health sector responds to radical changes in demand for services, the unprecedented events of 2020 have forced health care to be more innovative. Digital technology has enabled people to stay connected during the crisis, while the rapid expansion of virtual health care has meant that long-awaited efficiencies, workplace flexibility and improvements in access to care are beginning to be realised. However, with these innovations comes the need to address the digital divide within Australia to enable equitable access. Addressing stigma and discrimination is also critically important, as well as addressing employment, education, housing, justice, income support, early childhood and family support, aged care, psychosocial services, the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
During the past 12 months, Australia's mental health system has continued to be the focus of the reform agenda, including the Productivity Commission inquiry into mental health, the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System, the Aged Care Royal Commission, the Disability Royal Commission, and the Natural Disasters Royal Commission. Along with Vision 2030, the Fifth Plan, the National Mental Health Research Strategy, and the National Children's Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy, these inquiries will provide a significant national reform program in the years to come. However, there will need to be continued research and evaluation in mental health to understand progress with these existing reforms and support the case for future reforms.
The past 12 months have been particularly challenging for Australians as a result of the health and financial impacts of COVID-19, and recent bushfires, floods and drought. The COVID-19 pandemic is posing significant health, social and economic challenges for all Australians, with a number of at-risk groups likely to be impacted due to vulnerability or existing mental illness. Evidence from previous pandemics and broader research on the economic impact of recessions suggests the likelihood of increased mental illness, including new presentations of mental distress and illness; increased substance use; an increased incidence of interpersonal, generational and family violence; impacts from trauma; and increased risk of suicide in the longer term.
The Commission will continue to provide independent policy advice and evidence on ways to improve Australia's mental health and suicide prevention system. In addition, the Commission will continue its role as a catalyst for change within the mental health system.
Throughout this report, the Commission has identified a number of areas where improvements can be made to ensure that all Australians achieve the best possible mental health and wellbeing. The Commission views these as priority items within the context of the past 12 months. The list below compiles the recommendations made throughout the report.