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.