plan5Last week we attended the national consultation in Perth to talk about the draft of Australia’s Fifth National Mental Health Plan. We brought along three of our representatives, to give a variety of perspectives: Paul McNeela (from the Executive), Heather Galbraith (from the WA Advisory), and myself. This was an important opportunity to give some feedback on the directions proposed by the National Mental Health Commission review, which is the basis for the plan. That is, the plan aims to implement recommendations from that review.

A prevailing theme of the public feedback across the day was just how much was missing from the plan. The plan does little to address perinatal mental health, services for trauma or domestic violence, or mental health issues relating to the justice system. And while the plan does make mention of severe and persistent mental health issues, it doesn’t tell us much about what happens to those who are not identified as the focal groups for whom new initiatives will be targeting. All around the room there was a shared expression of concern that those groups who were unnamed may simply be left to fend for themselves.

We did our best to share some of the good ideas we have heard from you – the members and supporters of our party. We made the point that implementation of any plan needs investment, but that there is a significant funding shortfall. We also made some suggestions about how outcomes of the plan could be more effectively evaluated. Given that mental health issues relate to multiple factors beyond health alone (education, employment, housing, and so on) we questioned whether Ministers for Health were really in the right position to address all of the relevant issues. We proposed a system for bringing together all of the Ministers responsible for these issues.

Our group also generated some very specific recommendations about initiatives mentioned in the plan (such as suicide prevention, support after hospitalisation, and public education about mental health and well-being). Like so many other well-intended policy documents, this plan tags a wide range of suggested programs without telling us how long people might have access to the support. Whether we are talking about the duration of funding, access to mentors, supported housing, or the number of appointments you have – the common factor here is that people need support to last long enough to work for them. Simply ticking off boxes for the type of support provided is not the right way to go for anyone and will ultimately cost our society more.

We hope that helps you get a sense of the work we are doing to represent everybody on these issues. If you have some feedback or good policy suggestions, then please get in touch (secretary@amhp.org.au). Remember you can also connect with our Advisory committee if you’d like to volunteer with us as well. And of course, we would encourage all of you to write in a submission to the consultation group at the Department of Health by using the email address on their website.

Dr Ben Mullings (Chair) Australian Mental Health Party