Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, hosted a Government-led roundtable this week to review investment to date in mental health and suicide prevention, to hear from the sector on current gaps and priorities, to understand what is and is not working, and to advise on the upcoming national forum on youth mental health and suicide prevention.
Minister Hunt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison are committed to working towards zero-suicide for all Australians, including our youth.
Those in attendance welcomed the Government’s commitment, with a number noting that suicide prevention needs to be a priority across all age groups, especially those groups with the highest suicide rates.
The conversation covered a range of key issues, challenges and opportunities for reform and action. Particular discussion points included:
- Social determinants of mental health: there is a fundamental need to focus on the social determinants of mental health for all Australians, noting and emphasising the range of factors that contribute to distress in young Australians. This is an important factor for all young people and communities, with particular reference to the factors impacting on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and youth.
- The impact of trauma and disadvantage: conversation centred on the impacts of trauma and disadvantage and the importance of supporting, for example, young people in out-of-home care, those living in poverty and individuals who are in the justice system.
- Support for children and families: in order to improve the lives of young Australians, there is a need to better support children and families in the early years. This includes support for neurodevelopmental disorders. In the same way headspace has been developed for young people, there was a suggestion that mental health services focused on children and families could show real benefits. There is strong support for a focus on prevention
- Support for Schools: a continued need was highlighted around the role of, and support for, schools, including primary schools and early learning centres. Schools are a critical component of a ‘whole of community’ approach in building supportive environments for children and young people. It was suggested that for families who may not seek services but who were in need a way of ‘connecting’ may be through digital tools, to identify and support children and parents in those families.
- Impact on youth: young people can be seriously impacted and influenced by the suicide death of other young people who are their friends, peers, family members or celebrities. More timely and sophisticated data and comprehensive local responses are needed to assist in the reduction of risk for further lives being lost following a suicide.
- Data: The importance of being able to collect, analyse and provide accurate data was highlighted. This data is significant across mental health services and particularly for suicide prevention, treatment and support services.
- Service reform: there is a need for service reform to better respond to people with mental health concerns that are too complex to be managed by a GP at a primary health care level but not so acute as to require specialist tertiary mental health services. While there are some good programs and services to build upon, there is a lack of equity across all regions and access remains a key issue for those requiring psychological and other services. We also need to integrate mental health services with drug and alcohol services.
- Workforce development: there is an urgent need to focus on training and supporting the diverse professionals working with those at risk of or with mental health issues – health and allied health staff, drug and alcohol workers, school counsellors, psychologists, peer workers and many others. The role of peer workers was recognised as being a critical one and this must be included in all workforce development strategies and initiatives.
- Peer and carer support: many families and peers supporting those who are in suicidal distress and/or living with challenging mental health and drug and alcohol concerns needed immediate and quality support themselves as they are also at risk for mental ill-health. Families and friends are the largest non-clinical workforce providing care and support for Australians and there is an immediate need to provide better supports for them.
- Regional and national leadership: while attendees were supportive of regional planning and action, it was suggested that stronger guidance at a national level was needed in order to ensure equity and quality of service responses across the country, with a recognition of the importance of the role of Primary Health Networks. Further work is needed to ensure that the roles and responsibilities of all governments were clarified, together with accountability. The Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan, and particularly the Suicide Prevention Implementation Plan, are key drivers for clearer accountability and integrated and coordinated responses.
- Funding models: there was discussion on how best to fund services across the range of needs, including the current review of Medicare and the role of private health insurance.
A collective agreement and strong commitment was reached that a collaborative approach is vital to achieving improved mental health outcomes for all Australians, including children and youth.
There is significant support for a 2030 Vision for mental health and suicide prevention, to be led by the Commission and to ensure that the systematic changes required to best service the community can be identified, prioritised and achieved. This Vision would be look beyond the current plans and strategies.
Attendees acknowledged the commitment to mental health and quality program responses in recent years, together with the increased funding in the 2019/20 federal budget for expanded youth and adult mental health services in the community, together with initiatives to strengthen the collection of critical data around suicide and mentally healthy workplaces. They also noted the current enquiries being undertaken by the Productivity Commission and the Victorian Royal Commission. However, there needs to be an increased focus on longer term systems reform. The Commission has been tasked with taking a leading role in this and will work closely with the sector to develop a reform pathway.
Participants embraced the importance of hope, recognising not only the significant investment to date but that youth mental health services in Australia have been copied by other nations. There is strong support for improvements in mental health and suicide prevention across all levels of government and community.
As outlined by the Minister for Health, this was an opportunity to review the current status and continue this important discussion. It is one of many conversations that will continue with the sector at organisational, group and individual levels.
The Commission will provide updates in sector engagement and discussions as they occur.
Chair, National Mental Health Commission
CEO, National Mental Health Commission