Mental Health Week, commencing on 5 October, provides an opportunity for a national focus on mental health issues and coincides with World Mental Health Day which falls on 10 October. A range of community events are being planned and coordinated at the state level to raise awareness and help build mental well-being. Events are diverse and include morning teas, art exhibitions, sporting activities, workshops, balls, seminars and fundraisers and will be held in schools, workplaces, community facilities, galleries, ovals and parks. The ABC has also programmed ‘Mental As’ to draw attention to mental health issues.
Mental illness is common according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with the latest national survey showing that almost half of the adult population reported being affected by a mental disorder at some stage in their lifetime. One in five reported a recent mental health problem. The most common mental conditions reported were anxiety disorders such as phobias and panic disorders (14.4%), affective disorders such as depression and bipolar (6.2%), and substance use disorders such as harmful alcohol or drug use (5.1%). Women reported higher rates of disorders than men in all categories except substance abuse, but across age groups young people reported the highest prevalence (25–26%).
Despite this relatively high prevalence, stigma continues to surround those who experience a mental condition. Stigma can prevent people accessing the services they need, and prevent others from recognising the signs of mental illness. Many of the activities planned for Mental Health Week are designed to reduce stigma.
The Australian Government funds and supports a number of mental health and suicide prevention services. This includes funding for specific programs such as mental health services for young people provided through headspace facilities, the Personal Helpers and Mentors (PHaM) program, Medicare rebates for treatment services provided by GPs, mental health nurses, psychologists and other health care providers, pharmaceuticals subsidised through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and grants to the states to fund national programs such as the National Perinatal Depression Initiative.
Some $7.2 billion was spent in 2011–12 on the provision of mental health services nationally, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Most of this expenditure (nearly 61% or $4.4 billion) is spent by state and territory governments on specialised mental health services, including specialist hospital care and community mental health services. Australian Government expenditure totalled around $2.5 billion (or around 35% of total expenditure), mainly on Medicare funded mental health-related services and medicines subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
Mental health is one of nine designated National Health Priority Areas (NHPA). These are diseases or conditions which are recognised as contributing a significant burden of illness or injury. Mental health was designated a NHPA in 1996.
Mental health is also a high priority for research. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has awarded more than $450 million in grants over the last decade on research projects related to mental health. More than $70 million was spent on mental health research in 2013, up from $62 million in 2012.
Since 1992, a national approach to addressing mental health has been adopted mainly through the National Mental Health Strategy, which is a commitment by governments to improve the lives of people with a mental illness. The Strategy has included a series of National Mental Health Plans over the period 1993 to 2014, with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) also playing a significant role in recent years. The most recent national mental health initiative, the Roadmap for National Mental Health Reform 2012–2022, was endorsed by COAG in December 2012.
Early in 2014, the Australian Government commissioned the National Mental Health Commission to conduct a comprehensive review into the efficiency and effectiveness of all mental health programs in Australia. The Commission is due to report by 30 November this year.
The Parliament has shown a strong interest in mental health issues in recent years. Significant inquiries include those of the Senate Select Committee on Mental Health in 2006, as well as recent reports by the Senate Community Affairs Committee (Commonwealth Funding and Administration of Mental Health Services, and The hidden toll: suicide in Australia), while the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment has reported on Mental health and workforce participation. There are also two Parliamentary Friendship groups: the Parliamentary Friends of Mental Illness (co-chaired by MPs Ken Wyatt and Amanda Rishworth); and the Parliamentary Friends of Youth Mental Health (co-chaired by Senator Penny Wright and MPs Dan Tehan and Cathy McGowan).
During mental health week, many MPs and Senators will be engaging with their local communities and attending functions for Mental Health Week. It will also be an opportunity for individuals and groups to highlight any concerns they have on the scope and direction of mental health activities.