On 10 December 2020, the House of Representatives resolved to establish a Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention to inquire into the findings of recent reports and strategic reviews of the mental health system in light of events such as the 2019 bushfires and COVID-19.
In addition, the Committee was asked to inquire into and report on a range of other specific matters spanning approaches to early intervention, workforce roles, training and standards, funding arrangements and the use of telehealth and digital services. The terms of reference for the Committee’s inquiry can be found on page ix of this report.
The Committee began its work in February 2021 on resumption of Parliament after the summer recess. The Committee’s Resolution of Appointment requires it to present an interim report by 15 April 2021. Noting the short timeframe, the Committee has decided to use the interim report to provide an update on work undertaken to date, emerging themes and plans for the remainder of the inquiry.
Mental health issues impact everyone at some point in their life. Mental illness may be episodic, acute or chronic, and may affect an individual, a family member, friend or colleague, or someone met in a chance encounter.
The negative impact that COVID-19 might have on mental health was recognised from the outset, where concern came not only from fear of contracting the virus, but also the various measures implemented seeking to contain its spread and reduce its transmission.
Social restrictions, limitations around movement, lockdowns, physical isolation, online education, loss of employment and business hardship have all affected the capacity for Australians to manage their own mental health.
While COVID-19 has dominated the news over the last year and undoubtedly made an indelible mark, Australians have also had to deal with bushfires and floods, global and local economic shifts, and any number of personal traumas compounding the impact on their day to day lives and livelihoods.
As a result, the Committee acknowledges the sense of urgency required to improve services and outcomes for anyone affected by poor mental health.
The Committee after consultation acknowledges the breadth of the terms of reference. To provide a scaffold for the inquiry, the Committee begun by hearing evidence from the Productivity Commission, the Department of Health and the National Mental Health Commission. This will inform the work of the Committee for phase two of the inquiry.
The Committee will undertake further analysis of recent reports and strategic reviews, identify matters which require deeper investigation, and hear from stakeholders at a series of public hearings.
At the time of writing, the final report of the National Suicide Prevention Adviser had not been made available to the Committee. The Committee sees the timely release of the report as important to ensure that all relevant work is available for the Committee’s consideration and minimise the potential for duplication, including through this inquiry.
The Committee has noted the release of the final report of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. The Committee understands that the Commissioners from the Royal Commission are unable to comment on its final report or the processes in reaching its recommendations. The Committee has reviewed the report and will seek views of interested stakeholders and commentators.
The final report of the Committee is due to be presented by 1 November 2021.