‘Wellbeing’ Budget largely ignores mental health
The Mental Health Community Coalition ACT (MHCC ACT) laments the grave lack of support for mental health in the Federal Government’s first Budget, warning that many Canberrans will miss out on much-needed services.
“Beyond some welcome piecemeal measures, the Federal Budget failed to deliver the transformational change that the entire mental health system has needed for many years,” said Corinne Dobson, acting CEO of MHCC ACT.
“We welcome the funding commitments for perinatal mental health and wellbeing and mental health support for school students, small business owners and people in regional and remote areas, and recognise the modest expansion to the headspace network. But these are small commitments given the significant unmet demand for mental health support and the urgent need for a cohesive and comprehensive vision for mental health reform across Australia.
“Of particular concern, people with complex and enduring mental health conditions have been forgotten in this Federal Budget,” Ms Dobson said.
More than 155,000 people in Australia with severe and complex mental ill health do not receive support from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) or other Commonwealth or state/territory psychosocial programs.
“This Budget not only fails to address the shortfall in services for people with complex and enduring mental health issues, but creates a funding cliff for the limited psychosocial support services that are available outside of the NDIS, with no funding budgeted for beyond June 2023,” Ms Dobson said.
Psychosocial supports are community-based, non-clinical services and supports that help people with severe and complex mental health conditions to live well, recover in their communities and experience better quality of life. They include rehabilitation support services, self-help and peer support, accommodation support and outreach, employment and education support, leisure and recreation activities, family and carer support, helplines, and information, advocacy and promotion.
“These services reduce the number of people in mental health crisis, keeping them out of over-stretched and expensive acute, hospital-based services. The Government’s decision to not renew this funding means that many vital services will have to cease, leaving people in need with nowhere to turn and workers being forced to leave the sector,” Ms Dobson said.
“We are disappointed to see little in this Budget for the community-managed mental health workforce, despite a range of other workforce initiatives across the health sector and other industries.
“After years of campaigning, we had hoped the new Federal Government would reverse the chronic underfunding of the community-managed mental health sector, especially given their claims the Budget would be focused on wellbeing,” Ms Dobson said.
The community-managed mental health sector supports people with mental health conditions to live well in our community by providing services and programs to help prevent people from spiralling into mental health crisis, and pick them up after they have been in acute situations to help them along their recovery journey.
“The importance of our sector—and the need for greater investment—has been raised repeatedly in inquiries, royal commissions, and numerous studies and reports on improving mental health in Australia,” Ms Dobson said.
According to one recent study, there have been no less than 55 high-profile public inquiries relevant to mental health over the last 30 years, involving more than 55,000 public submissions and 9,000 witnesses. In 2020, the Federal Government’s own Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health once more called for generational reform to create a person-centred mental health system.
“Yet governments still don’t seem to be listening,” Ms Dobson said.
The Budget did include significant investment in housing and aged care, and $560m for community services, primarily for domestic violence, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and housing services.
“We welcome this much-needed investment, which should have positive flow-on effects on mental health. However, the underwhelming scale of investment and the neglect of community-managed mental health services means we will continue to see gaps in the system, stress on the sector and far too many people missing out on the mental health support they need,” Ms Dobson said.
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MHCC ACT is the peak body for community-managed mental health services in the ACT. Find out more about MHCC ACT at www.mhccact.org.au.