Health | Ageing

Australia must prioritise mental-health reform now: Professor Allan Fels

With one in five Australians experiencing mental illness each year, governments, business and the public need to prioritise mental-health reform, says University of Melbourne Professorial Fellow, Professor Allan Fels.

“We need to recognise that we do have a blueprint for reform right now,” Prof. Fels, who is also a Mental Health Victoria Patron, told a recent CEDA livestream.  

“The challenge is to make it happen, and that involves making governments make a high priority –  much higher than in the past – of mental-health reform.  

“The economic benefits alone of mental-health reform dwarf the economic benefits that you would get from most micro-economic reforms that are being talked about.”  

Last year, the Productivity Commission estimated that mental illness costs Australia about $220 billion every year.  

Almost half of all Australian adults had experienced mental illness in their lifetime, the report showed.  

Prof. Fels was joined by National Mental Health Commission Chair, Lucinda Brogden and headspace Chief Executive Officer, Jason Trethowan, to discuss a more holistic approach to mental-health support and services.  

Greater focus on families needed: headspace  

Bringing a frontline service-delivery perspective to the discussion, Mr Trethowan said a greater focus on families was needed.  

“We’ve got to think about the village before we talk about the system of care when people are in need of mental-health support,” he said. 

“There is a lot that we can do as families, and as well all know, family conflict, domestic violence, family issues are on the rise in this country and we have to look at why and start to look at how to address those.”  

A 2020 survey of young people by headspace found 40 per cent of young people felt the pandemic had affected their confidence in their ability to achieve future goals.  

Half of the survey respondents said their mental health had worsened, particularly during periods of strict lockdown. 

“Whilst we haven’t yet captured the impact of COVID-19 in full, we know there will be longer-term mental-health issues to come from it,” Mr Trethowan said. 

We can all help improve mental health outcomes: Brogden 

Ms Brogden, who chairs the National Mental Health Commission, said resources and roadmaps were available for people to start having conversations about mental health at home, work and elsewhere.  

“We can all start: the roadmaps are there, the documents are there, the plans are there,” Ms Brogden said. 

“For many of us looking at our own service, whether that’s in a workplace or a mental-health service or a community group, there are things we can do.  

“Many people here are not from the mental-health sector, but they work in workplaces, and the national stigma report card showed us last year that the workplace is the second highest place where people experience stigma and discrimination when it comes to mental health. 

“A change of attitude will change a lot of outcomes and start conversations that may well bring about some system improvements.”