Mental health

Budget Review 2018–19 Index

Lauren Cook

Mental health reform is a key component of the Australian Government’s ‘long term health plan’.[1]

In previous years, the Australian Government has been criticised for mental health being ‘chronically underfunded’,[2] with some stakeholders claiming that the mental health budget is ‘really half of what it should get’.[3] Stakeholders have also criticised previous funding allocations, suggesting that the Government should ‘reorient investment towards early intervention and prevention’.[4]

The Government has committed an additional $338.1 million in the Budget for mental health, with a particular focus on suicide prevention, supporting older Australians, and mental health research.[5] This investment is nearly double the commitments to mental health made in the 2017–18 Budget.[6]

It is unlikely that the measures outlined below will require legislation.

Suicide prevention

The Government has committed $72.6 million in the Budget for suicide prevention initiatives. This includes $37.6 million over four years to beyondblue and Primary Health Networks to improve follow-up care for people discharged from hospital following a suicide attempt,[7] $33.8 million over four years to Lifeline Australia to enhance its telephone crisis services, and $1.2 million in 2018–19 to SANE Australia to deliver a targeted suicide awareness campaign.

Prior to the Budget, stakeholders advised the Government to invest in intensive follow up treatment after suicide attempts. In its pre-budget submission, Mental Health Australia stated that a previous suicide attempt was the most reliable predictor of a subsequent death by suicide, with half of the people discharged from hospital after a suicide attempt not attending follow-up treatment.[8]

This funding has been welcomed by stakeholders, with the Chair of beyondblue, Julia Gillard, commending the Minister for Health for his ‘commitment to reducing Australia’s suicide rate’.[9]

Older Australians

As part of the Government’s ‘More Choices for a Long Life’ package, the Government has committed a total of $102.5 million over four years from 2018–19 to improve access to psychological services for older Australians. This includes $82.5 million in funding for mental health services for people in residential aged care facilities, and $20.0 million for the development of a program to target the mental health of older Australians in the community, particularly those at risk from isolation.

In 2012, just over half of all permanent aged care residents had symptoms of depression.[10] Further, in 2016, men over 85 had the highest rate of suicide in Australia.[11] Despite this, older Australians in residential care are not eligible for Medicare subsidised psychological treatment through the GP Mental Health Treatment Plan.[12] While it appears that the measure was introduced to address this gap, it is unclear whether changes will be made to the eligibility criteria for the GP Mental Health Treatment Plan, or if the measure will address this gap in other ways.

Stakeholders have overwhelmingly supported this measure, as older Australians in residential aged care facilities have previously ‘not had adequate access to mental health care, and been left unsupported when dealing with conditions like depression and dementia’.[13]

Mental health research

The Government announced a distribution of $125.0 million from the Medical Research Future Fund over 10 years from 2017–18 for Million Minds Mental Health Research Mission (the Million Minds Mission). The Million Minds Mission will look at prevention, new diagnoses, and new treatment for mental health to support priorities under the Fifth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan, with a particular focus on clinical trials.[14]

Stakeholders have supported the investment in health and medical research in the Budget, with Mental Health Australia commending the ‘welcome shift to investment on a 10 year horizon’.[15]

Other mental health measures

Royal Flying Doctor Service

The Government has committed $84.1 million to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, to improve the delivery and availability of dental, mental health and emergency services to Australia’s rural and remote communities. This includes a new Mental Health Outreach Clinic, which will provide professional mental health services from 1 January 2019.[16] This funding has been welcomed by stakeholders, with the CEO of the National Mental Health Commission commending it for being a ‘much needed boost’.[17]

National Mental Health Commission

The Government announced an additional $12.4 million over four years from 2018–19 for the National Mental Health Commission to oversee mental health reform and implement the Fifth National Mental health and Suicide Prevention Plan.[18] This funding was welcomed by stakeholders, particularly Mental Health Australia, which identified funding the implementation of the Fifth National Mental health and Suicide Prevention Plan as a key priority in its pre-Budget submission.[19]

Youth mental health

On 8 January 2018, the Minister for Health announced $110.0 million in additional investment in child and youth mental health. This included up to $46.0 million to beyondblue for its integrated school-based Mental Health in Education initiative, $30.0 million to the headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation to provide support to Primary Health Networks in commissioning headspace services, $16.0 million to Emerging Minds for the National Workforce Support in Child Mental Health initiative, and $13.5 million for the operation of the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health.[20] However, there did not appear to be any references to this package in the Budget.

[1].          Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2018–19: budget related paper no. 1.9: Health Portfolio, p. 21.

[2].          S Rosenberg, ‘Mental health funding in the 2017 budget is too little, unfair and lacks a coherent strategy’, The Conversation, 11 May 2017.

[3].          K Gregory, ‘Australia lagging on funding for mental health services, says Mental Illness Fellowship’, ABC News, 11 May 2015.

[4].          Mental Health Australia (MHA), Mental health sector unites to highlight shortcomings in Fifth National Mental Health Plan, media release, 20 December 2016.

[5].          Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2018–19: budget related paper no. 1.9: Health Portfolio, p. 16.

[6].          Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2017–18: budget related paper no. 1.10: Health Portfolio, pp. 17–18.

[7].          $27.1 million of this commitment is for Primary Health Networks for the commission of services, and is contingent on co-contributions from state and territory governments. The budget figures in this brief have been taken from the following document unless otherwise sourced : Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2018–19, pp. 106–126.

[8].          MHA, Mental Health Australia 2018/19 pre-budget submission, MHA, 7 March 2018, p. 12.

[9].          beyondblue, beyondblue welcomes suicide prevention funding announcement, media release, 8 May 2018.

[10].       Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Australia’s welfare 2015, AIHW, Canberra, 2015, p. 278.

[11].       Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Causes of Death, Australia, 2016, cat. no. 3303.0, ABS, Canberra, 2017.

[12].       Senate Community Affairs Committee, Answers to Questions on Notice, Health Portfolio, Additional Estimates 2016-17, 1 March 2017, Question SQ17-000283.

[13].       Australian Psychological Society, Budget: investments in mental health and aged care welcome, media release, 9 May 2018; Australian College of Nursing, Australian Government health budget 2018–19, media release, 8 May 2018; MHA, Mental Health Australia welcomes new mental health investments, media release, 9 May 2018.

[14].       G Hunt (Minister for Health), Transcript of interview with Laura Jayes on Sky News Live, media release, 6 March 2018.

[15].       MHA, Mental Health Australia welcomes new mental health investments, op. cit.

[16].       M McCormack (Deputy Prime Minister) and J McVeigh (Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government), Regional Australia—A stronger economy delivering stronger regions 2018–19, ministerial budget statement, 2018, p. 92.

[17].       National Mental Health Commission, Federal budget makes the mental health of our nation a top priority, media release, 9 May 2018.

[18].       Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2018–19: budget related paper no. 1.9: Health Portfolio, p. 22.

[19].       MHA, Mental Health Australia 2018/19 pre-budget submission, op. cit., p. 7.

[20].       G Hunt (Minister for Health) and B McKenzie (Minister for Rural Health), $110 million additional investment in child and youth mental health, media release, 8 January 2018.


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