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Why mental health must be part of Australia’s economic and social reform agenda

Why mental health must be part of Australia’s economic and social reform agenda

Commission Chair Allan Fels addressed the National Press Club on 5 August with a compelling argument for leaders to recognise mental health and suicide prevention as key economic reform priorities.  In his speech, Prof Fels highlighted that mental health costs our economy about $60b per year and stated that improvements in the mental health system would deliver a huge contribution to GDP improvement.  “For every 10 per cent gain in mental health, GDP would rise by 0.4 per cent.”

“Mental health is a significant problem for our economy – as significant as, often more significant than, tax or microeconomic reform”.

In his speech, Prof Fels demonstrated the unique challenges of mental health through the lens of the three Ps of economic growth: reducing the impact of mental illness of a large population; improving participation; and improving productivity at work.

“…if we enable people to live contributing lives – to have relationships, stable housing and maximise participation in education, employment and the community more broadly – we will help build economically and socially thriving communities, and a more productive Australia.” Prof Fels said.

Commission corporate plan and work plan available

As required under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013, the Commission has published our Corporate Plan for 2015-2019. Also available on our website is our Work Plan 2015-2016.

Contributing lives, thriving communities: an update on the review of national mental health programmes and services

“Australia has a transformational opportunity to tackle the individual, social and economic costs of mental ill-health if it makes mental health a priority. The challenge for all of us involved in the sector is to ensure that people with mental health difficulties and their families and support people are front and centre of every conversation we have on mental health,” Chair Allan Fels said.

The Review findings reinforce concerns that the current system is not designed with the needs of people and families at its core, and that navigating the mental health system is complex and difficult, meaning people are unable to access the support and services they need. 

The Department of Health undertook targeted stakeholder workshops to help inform the Government’s response to our Review.  On 6 August, our Chair Prof Allan Fels AO and our CEO Mr David Butt attended one of these workshops. The workshop provided an opportunity for stakeholders to share their views on issues and implementation considerations relating to the Review. Discussion was focused on the following five themes:

  • Promotion, prevention and early intervention
  • Primary mental health care
  • Suicide prevention
  • Support for people with severe mental illness and complex needs
  • The fifth national mental health plan

The report from the Expert Reference Group on Mental Health, tasked by Minister Ley to provide advice on the implementation of the recommendations from our Review has been completed and provided to Government.  Health Minister Sussan Ley has said she will make a substantial response to the Review before the end of the year.

Canberra Commission meeting

Our last Commission meeting held in Canberra on 12-13 August, provided an opportunity for Commissioners to discuss our report Contributing lives, thriving communities – Review of Mental Health Programmes and Services with Federal Members of Parliament, Senators and Departments.  We also met with a variety of stakeholders to hear about veterans mental health, suicide prevention and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and social and emotional wellbeing. Commissioners met with the following members of parliament, representatives of government departments and community organisations:

  • The Hon. Sussan Ley, MP
  • Senator the Hon. Jan McLucas
  • Senator the Hon. Penny Wright
  • Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson
  • Senator the Hon. Marise Payne
  • Senator the Hon. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells
  • The Office of the Treasurer
  • The Office of the Minister for Social Services
  • The Parliamentary Friends of Youth Mental Health
  • Department of Health
  • Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • Department of Veteran’s Affairs
  • Department of Defence
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics
  • Lifeline, Canberra
  • Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service

Shared commitment to mental health consumers and carers

In September 2015, the MOU with the National Mental Health Consumer and Carer Forum (NMHCCF) was renewed, highlighting our commitment to collaborative partnerships to support the mental health and wellbeing of Australians to enable them to live contributing lives and participate in thriving communities.  With NMHCCF we have worked together on

  • National targets and indicators for mental health reform
  • The Mental Health In Multicultural Australia review of data and research in mental health of people from CALD backgrounds
  • Our Future Leaders in Mental Health project
  • The commission’s projects including Peer Work, Seclusion and Restraint, Workplace mental health and the Scoping Study on the implementation of national standards in mental health services
  • Commission reports – in particular our first two report cards and the Review
  • Nomination of potential candidates to national reference and advisory groups.

In the coming year we look forward to working together on empowering and supporting self-care through promotion of best practice and integrated models of care within primary health networks and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care Organisations.

Commission invited to address Senate Select Committee on Health

At the Senate Select Committee on Health public hearing on 26 August, Chairman Fels told the enquiry that despite widespread agreement on the imperative for mental health reform, mental health has never been given the priority it merits in terms of a whole-of-government approach. Accompanied by Commissioners Hickie and Crowe and CEO Mr Butt, the Commission explained the significance of mental ill-health and our vision for the Review.

Highlighted in the title, Contributing Lives, Thriving Communities, our vision for the Review is based on the Contributing Life Framework – a whole-of-person, whole-of-life approach to mental health and wellbeing.  Prof Fels emphasised that mental health is a significant problem for our economy – as significant as, often more significant than, tax or microeconomic reform.  Many people do not get the support they need, and governments get poor returns on substantial investment. The economic or GDP gains from better mental health would dwarf most of the gains – often modest ones – being talked about in current economic reform debates.

“In short, the costs of mental health to the economy are high. They can be greatly reduced.” Prof Fels said. “Fundamentally, the approach we recommend calls for the system to be realigned from a focus on service providers, to a focus on people, where those with lived experience, their families and support people are engaged and involved at all levels - Nothing about us with us”.

The Review shows this is achievable and sets out a blueprint on how we can get there.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health

From its inception, the Commission has demonstrated its commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and social and emotional wellbeing. There is a strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander presence which flows throughout our Review recommendations, with many of the system changes we recommend expected to have a positive impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and social and emotional wellbeing.

“By every measure, Indigenous mental health is significantly worse than that of other Australians. It’s time Indigenous Australians had a dedicated mental health plan to close this gap,” said Commissioner Pat Dudgeon.

Our relationships with Indigenous stakeholder groups help inform our work and ensure that these priority issues remain on the national agenda. A snapshot of our recent engagement is provided below.

3rd National Aboriginal Health Summit Communique

The Commission had the opportunity to present the Contributing lives, thriving communities – Report of the National Review of Mental Health Programmes and Services to more than 100 delegates at the 3rd National Aboriginal Health Summit in Darwin on Friday 31 July.  In his presentation, our CEO, David Butt highlighted what this means for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' mental health and social and emotional wellbeing.  Co-hosted by the Aboriginal Medical Service Alliance NT and NT Government, the Communique from the Summit is now available. The Communique proposes a set of recommendations to improve Aboriginal health outcomes and close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

Image:  David Butt, CEO National Mental Health Commission, John Feneley, NSW Mental Health Commission,  Lesley Van Schoubroeck, Qld Mental Health Commission, Dr Robyn Shields, Deputy Commissioner, NSW Mental Health Commission, and Professor Gracelyn Smallwood, Indigenous leader, at the 3rd National Aboriginal Health Summit, held in Darwin on 30 and 31 July.

Summit communique (1.1MB)

Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership in mental health

The Commission is proud to support the Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Declaration which provides a framework for Indigenous leadership in mental health and suicide prevention. Launched by Professor Pat Dudgeon, Chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership in Mental Health (NATSILMH) and National Mental Health Commissioner, on 27 August 2015 at TheMHS Conference.

CEO speaks at Ministerial Roundtable on Future Directions in Indigenous Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Policy

Commission CEO, David Butt addressed the Ministerial Roundtable on Future Directions in Indigenous Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Policy on Wednesday 22 July, at Parliament House, Canberra.  In attendance were Indigenous Affairs Minister, Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion, the Minister for Health, Hon Sussan Ley MP, the Assistant Minister for Health, Senator the Hon Fiona Nash together with Indigenous health and mental health leaders.  Mr Butt provided an overview of the Review’s findings and recommendations on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health. Hosted by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Advisory Group, the roundtable meeting heard from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in health, mental health, social and emotional wellbeing and suicide prevention and discussed strategic directions to reduce the incidence of mental health conditions and suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to close the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians.

New appointments

The National Mental Health Commission is pleased to announce the appointment of Ms Sally Goodspeed as Executive Director and Ms Kim Eagle as Chief Operating Officer for the National Mental Health Commission.

As head of Strategic Policy and Programmes, Sally will play a key leadership role in engaging with our stakeholders to ensure inclusion and participation in the Commission’s work.  “Working collectively with the mental health sector, individuals with lived experience, their families and carers is integral to our work,” said David Butt, Commission CEO.

Sally joined the Commission in August 2015.  Prior to this she spent five years at the Australian Government Department of Health leading a range of Population Health policies and programmes.  This work covered a number of diverse areas, including the health of men, women and children; family planning; chronic disease; contributing to development of a global framework for monitoring non-communicable disease (including mental health); analysis of national population health statistics and communicable disease surveillance.  In earlier roles Sally provided leadership to teams producing and analysing Health, Wellbeing and Community Statistics programs at the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  This included overseeing the development and conduct of the 2007 Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, Disability Statistics and the Indigenous Statistics program.   In each of these roles, Sally has had extensive experience working with and consulting a range of stakeholders including being a member of, and providing Secretariat support for, relevant national committees, advising National Health Ministers and the government.

Kim commenced with the Commission in July 2015.  Kim is well placed to oversee the business operations of the Commission, with extensive experience in leading and managing corporate services including financial management, human resource management, reporting, governance and compliance, information technology, records management and operational policy and process.

Kim has worked in government for fourteen years at both a state and federal level.  Prior to joining the Commission, Kim was the Business Manager at Infrastructure Australia and the Business Manager at COAG Reform Council.  Kim has also worked at WorkCover NSW and the NSW Attorney General’s Department including the Crown Solicitors Office, Criminal Law Review Division and the Downing Centre Local Court.

NDIS Roll Out in NSW and VIC

The Commonwealth Government signed Bilateral Agreements with the New South Wales and Victorian Governments on 16 September 2015 for the roll out of the NDIS.

In our Review, the Commission highlighted eligibility and access to psychosocial services under the NDIS as a critical issue requiring greater clarity.  It will be important to ensure that people are supported by mental health services during the transition stages of the NDIS.

At our next meeting, the Commission's theme is disability and rural and remote.  We are looking forward to hearing first hand experiences from the Hunter NDIS Trial site.

Read more about the NDIS in NSW  and VIC

Next Commission Meeting – Newcastle 14-16 October 2015

The National Mental Health Commission’s next formal meeting is to be held in Newcastle from the 14 to the 16 of October.

Previous Commission meeting minutes.

Aboriginal flag Torres Strait Islander flag

Acknowledgement of Country

The Commission acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands throughout Australia.
We pay our respects to their clans, and to the elders, past present and emerging, and acknowledge their continuing connection to land, sea and community.


The Commission is committed to embracing diversity and eliminating all forms of discrimination in the provision of health services. The Commission welcomes all people irrespective of ethnicity, lifestyle choice, faith, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Lived Experience

We acknowledge the individual and collective contributions of those with a lived and living experience of mental ill-health and suicide, and those who love, have loved and care for them. Each person’s journey is unique and a valued contribution to Australia’s commitment to mental health suicide prevention systems reform.