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Monitoring mental health and suicide prevention reform: National Report 2020

Message from Christine Morgan - Chief Executive Officer of the National Mental Health Commission

We are pleased to present the National Mental Health Commission's 2020 National Report on mental health and suicide prevention in Australia. Reflecting on 2020, we are reminded of the incredible contributions of so many, including our essential workers in health and aged care, schools, supermarkets, cleaning and transport.

Our first responders put themselves on the front line to protect and support their communities. Mental health professionals have been challenged to continue providing support and services through these difficult times, with the COVID-19 pandemic having a significant impact on our mental health and wellbeing as well as on our physical health. Innovation and flexibility in our responses have been critical.

Although we have all been challenged in 2020, some people have required more support as a result of pre-existing inequities in access to health care, housing, income and social supports. The coordinated response to this year's challenges by governments, service providers, support networks and community organisations has shown what can be done when we work together collaboratively. Since 2012, the Commission has called for a whole-of-government approach to mental health and suicide. Never has this approach been more important.

In 2020, a number of significant reports on mental health and suicide prevention reform were released, including the report of the Productivity Commission inquiry into mental health, the interim report of the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System and the interim advice in my role as National Suicide Prevention Adviser. These have detailed the significant and lengthy work required to improve our mental health and suicide prevention system to efficiently and effectively meet the needs of, and improve outcomes for, people with lived experience, their families and the community more broadly.

It was also a year of national awareness of the importance of mental health and wellbeing, as each new challenge brought home the need to stay connected, check in with each other, and reach out for support. There has been a strong commitment to system reform in response to the natural disasters of fires, floods and hail, as well as to COVID-19. This includes recognising the importance of supporting people to access help and treatment where it is needed—where people live, work and learn, or in their community.

We welcomed the formation of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency to lead and coordinate a national response to rebuilding communities affected by bushfires across large parts of Australia. The agency administers the National Bushfire Recovery Fund, which is supporting recovery efforts across Australia, including a mental health package for first responders and communities. The Commission is working across many sectors in developing the National Disaster Mental Health and Wellbeing Framework, including consulting with people in areas affected by bushfires and natural disasters, state and territory governments, people with lived experience, local governments, community organisations involved in disaster support, and mental health and disaster management researchers.

One of the most significant achievements was the endorsement by National Cabinet of the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan as a response to the national public emergency of COVID-19. The plan is a testament to a unified commitment, by governments and the mental health sector, to support all Australians' mental health and wellbeing during the response to, and recovery from, the COVID-19 pandemic. It will continue to guide a concerted and coordinated response from all levels of government as we face the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on mental health and wellbeing. The leadership of this work by New South Wales, Victoria and the Commission, with coordinated input from all governments, was a demonstration of the new levels of collaboration achieved in 2020. The plan was informed by more than 100 submissions, including from those with lived experience.

We have heard from many stakeholders of the anxiety and distress caused by the national crises of bushfires, droughts and floods, and the restrictions that were required to bring COVID-19 under control throughout the year. Through the concerted efforts of all governments, organisations and the community, we have weathered an unprecedented year. By working together, we can continue to make real change at all levels of the system, and improve the lives of those impacted by mental illness.

Christine Morgan

Christine Morgan
Chief Executive Officer,
National Mental Health Commission