A new report from an alliance of mental health professionals exposes a deepening crisis in mental health care in Australia.
The report highlights that the under-resourced public health system can end up causing more stress for the patient than the mental health condition it is meant to treat.
Mental health workers describe a system that’s too complex, hard to access, fragmented, and weighed down by inequality.
The report finds that services are hard to access because of long wait times or restrictive entry criteria.
People are falling through the cracks and left adrift in an already stretched public health system, presenting at emergency departments, which is an incongruent setting for a mental health assessment for someone in distress.
The report concludes that too many Australians are falling through the cracks, and their trauma isn’t dealt with, “In fact, they’re often retraumatised by the system.”
The Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists chair, Dr Angelo Virgona, said that the report is a document of despair, as the system is chronically underfunded, too expensive to access for many and unfit for purpose.
The report’s survey of more than 1,300 frontline mental health specialists and workers who have witnessed patients being denied timely access to affordable mental health care found that people are presenting to emergency with mental health issues and being turned back out onto the street/home.
The report calls for systemic and structural change that increases investment in community mental health services to meet the needs of people experiencing mental health distress who cannot get support.
The report highlights that emergency departments across NSW have become the default access point into the mental health system.
NSW is spending less per person on mental health than other states and territories, and the gap is set to widen since Queensland and Victoria have provided more funding for their mental health services.
NSW Labor has pledged to expand Lifeline services and spend $17 million to improve access to mental health services for young people in NSW through the Kids Helpline.
The Mental Health Minister Bronnie Taylor’s spokesman said that a re-elected Coalition government would work with the sector to ensure the mental health system meets the needs of consumers and would consider a system gap analysis to identify any shortfalls.
The NSW government has undertaken significant investment into the mental health system over the past ten years, including new initiatives to boost mental health care for children and adults in the community, including suicide prevention services.