Last week the 2018 Federal Budget figures were announced. The Government announced $338.1 M of new investment in mental health care spanning three main areas: (1) suicide prevention, (2) older Australians, and (3) research. Our party has taken a closer look at those figures to help everyone make sense of them.

The first thing we noticed is that the additional funding for mental health actually represents $275.6 M spaced out over a five year period. The main reason for that, is that the largest single item is for the ‘Million Minds’ research project which will span ten years. So the annual increase to mental health funding actually comes to just $55.12 M. As usual there’s a bit of positive spin from our Government. While it is true that something is better than nothing, the question is how long it will to take to bring mental health care funding up to scale with the size of the issue?

Mental health issues represent the third largest area of impact by comparison to other health issues in terms of disability adjusted life years (DALYs), following cancer and cardiovascular disease. As a percentage, mental health issues represent 12% of the total fatal and non-fatal burden of disability rates nationally. Figures of this kind are meant to be used to inform funding allocation, so it may come as a surprise to learn that Australia invests less than 8% of the health budget to mental health. That difference in percentages is sizeable in the context of a health budget of well over $116 B.

Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that this figure has remained relatively unchanged across the last decade. That is, Australia’s total mental health expenditure increases by just over 1% each year. At that rate it would take well over 200 years for Australia to reach the target of bringing mental health funding up to scale. That’s clearly too long to wait.

For argument’s sake, let’s say we waited for 25 years – long enough for the babies being born right now to grow up and become adults. To keep things simple, we would need to see an additional $5 B dedicated to mental health in today’s figures to reach that 12% mark. Across 25 years that works out to a funding increase of just over $200 M of new investment each year. That’s over triple the amount we saw in last weeks budget. Keep in mind here too, that total health expenditure has been increasing by around 5% annually (see AIHW report), so the simple figures we offer show the bare minimum. In 25 years time, that 12% proportion of the health budget will represent a much larger amount.

The Australian Mental Health Party are concerned that we are slipping behind. In our view, politicians need to be realistic about how much funding should be dedicated to mental health care. Australia must start developing a good plan for how to get there.

How long do you think the Australian public should wait to bring mental health funding up to scale?

Please share your thoughts below on this year’s Federal Budget announcement.

5 comments

  1. Carol Kaye

    Reply

    Mental health…the forgotten people. There will never be adequate funding until the Minister for health {?} ? Mental Health? Is a qualified judge of Mental health conditions and how they impact on peoples lives. I believe there should be information gathered by Psychiatrists and Psychologists working in different social situations and communities. This would give a more overall view of public mental health needs. The answer to the question “how long should should the Australian public wait until funding is brought up to scale” is This year!!! This years funding budget is only a token response to the need. Sorry for my rambling. I can’t get the fluent thoughts going at the moment.

  2. prwarmstrong@gmail.com

    Reply

    My first comment would be mental health is bigger than psychology and psychiatry. Having significant experience working with the current Ministers Office and the Shadow Minister (Labor actually have a Minister for Mental Health as opposed to the Coalition who have a Minister for Health Ageing and Sport) numbers are significant. So the first thing I would consider is embracing the whole profession to build membership, numbers and access to research and data. For this party to be effective and start to create change we need representation in government. We can only achieve this through numbers, by disenfranchising prospective members from other mental health professions we mitigate any chance of getting the numbers we need.

    A second significant issue that needs to be considered is as long as Australian voters play the game of voting different parties in every four years we will not get a solid commitment by any party for long-term commitments to mental health. If you do your homework more was achieved under the Howard and Hawke administrations due to each party serving several terms than any recent administrations. This is out of our hands. Until the Australian voter figures this out , however, what it means is that we need to change strategy to designing achievable changes within short periods until this cycle is changed by the voter. A four-year term equals less than 3 years effective government and commitment to spending in real time. Either we deal with the reality or bash our heads against a brick wall. Acknowledging the reality does not mean you agree with it or that we cant work to change it. It just is. We will continue to be disappointed if we focus on what should be invested as opposed to proactively influencing a more effective use of what is being committed. Over time and with political influence we can change this but there is a lot to be achieved by AMHP before this can happen.

  3. Ben Mullings

    Reply

    Thanks for your comments Philip. You make a number of good points which I agree with. Mental health care certainly is a very big issue and we need to involve all perspectives. By necessity, our focus as a party is an inclusive one, with the aim of bringing together all Australia. We envision a future where all mental health care workers can contribute alongside one another, and feel really heard by us, as we move forward and work towards positive changes to the system. More importantly, we intend to make sure that our direction is shaped by people who live with mental health issues and also the wider general public. All of us must work together.

    I also agree that long-term change to the system will take time, especially when we consider our plan to bring mental health funding up to scale. Quick fixes are rarely possible and years of neglect mean that Australia’s current investment is lagging far behind. You are right that all political parties have a responsibility to contribute and also that the most practical outcome would be long-term stability of any government which is truly focused on resolving the issues we now face around mental health care.

    Where we probably differ is that I believe that we can, and should, focus on both structural change and lifting the scale of investment. Our party is committed to resolving both of these issues. Indeed, I would suggest that one issue cannot be resolved in the absence of the other. Redirecting the same inadequate funds, from one part of the mental health care sector to another, can only result in patchy care and internal conflicts. We see such conflicts not just between practitioner groups, but also between groups of mental health consumers – where under-funding results in discourse to the effect of labeling distressed people as an undeserving “worried well”. We must all be mindful of the harm that can be caused by these issues which follow on from there being such a lack of funding to address these structural issues.

  4. prwarmstrong@gmail.com

    Reply

    Hi Ben, we are on the same page. Structural change is a must and spending must increase significantly., that was never in question. My comments were reflective of the issue that we have had 3 Ministers, Dutton, Ley and Hunt in as many years and even more senior advisers (I have worked with over 5 in 3 years) therefore everything in regards to policy and planning has been short term. The only real long-term policy to come from the Coalition are Primary Health Networks which, in reality, are simply the Medicare Locals re-invented., many PHNs even have the same boards as they did when they were Medicare Locals. That is a reality of dealing with government at this time. Hopefully, AMHP can change this by getting some seats in parliament, that will be a game changer.

  5. Stephen Brown

    Reply

    Mental health requires a holistic approach embracing the social and life experiences of a range of stakeholders. The medical/psychological model alone is insufficient to one write the full story and ensure realistic funding.. Context, structure and the lived experience are vital snapshots of where we are, where we might go and how we achieve real significant change.

    Stephen G Brown

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