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Australia and New Zealand champion mental health reforms

Australia and New Zealand champion mental health reforms

Australia and New Zealand champion mental health reforms

Australian and New Zealand are taking strides to right the wrongs of mental health care.

Mental illness and suicide are significant health issues in most countries around the world. In Australia, almost half of the population will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, such as anxiety or substance use disorder. And, according to the recent New Zealand Health Survey, nearly 8 per cent of adults had experienced psychological distress in the past four weeks.

The National Mental Health Commission recently released its 2018 report card on Australia’s mental health and suicide prevention system. The Commission’s sixth national report – Monitoring Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Reform: National Report 2018 – provides an analysis of the current status of Australia’s core mental health and suicide prevention reforms, and their impact on consumers and carers. The report states that, “We know that mental illness affects not only mortality but also people’s social and emotional wellbeing.  It influences people’s ability to live a contributing life through personal, social and economic factors, and the ability to contribute and feel connected within a community.”

Interim CEO of the NMHC, Maureen Lewis, says the Commission’s report highlights the importance of prevention, early intervention and a focus on the social determinants of health to reduce the impact of mental illness. “Good mental health starts in infancy, so it is essential that parents, carers and early childhood educators are skilled and supported to give children the best start toward a lifetime of good mental health,” Lewis says. The report states that despite the overwhelming evidence in favour of early intervention, about one-third (35%) of parents reported that a child’s mental illness might be best left alone to work itself out over time. The poll also found that less than half of parents (44%) reported being confident they would know where to go for help if their child was experiencing social, emotional or behavioural difficulties.

Social determinants are the social conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live and age, as well as the systems that shape the conditions of daily life. Evidence from the World Health Organization shows that it’s important to address the four social determinants of health, which include early childhood development, fair employment and decent work, social protection, and the living environment, when it comes to having the greatest impact on health.

When it comes to suicide prevention, the report shows that despite ongoing work to improve suicide prevention efforts in Australia, there has been no significant reduction in the suicide rate over the last decade. The hardest hit are the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who die by suicide 2 times more often than non-Indigenous Australians, and that in the five years from 2013 to 2017, death by suicide was the leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people between 15 and 34 years of age, and the second leading cause for those 35 to 44 years of age. The report details that part of the challenge with suicide prevention are the issues faced by the mental health workforce. Stress and burnout, an ageing workforce, excessive workloads, insecure tenure, limited career paths, and reduced time for training, mentoring and supervision are all contributing factors to a high staff turnover.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, the Government launched inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction aims to identify unmet needs and develop recommendations for a better mental health and addiction system for New Zealand. The inquiry hopes to set up a clear direction for the next five to ten years that Government, the mental health and addiction sectors and the whole community can pick up and make happen. The Inquiry Panel has moved into the deliberations phase in preparation for delivery of its report to Government in late October.

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