Latest mental health productivity data reveals scale of reform ahead

12 February 2019

Mental health is surely one of the most investigated areas of government. There were 32 separate statutory inquiries into mental health just between 2006 and 2012. We currently have a royal commission into aged care, including the mental health care of people in nursing homes. We also have a royal commission into mental health in Victoria. This inquiry has already drawn 4500 submissions, and that’s before the terms of reference have been determined!

The other major current inquiry is by the Productivity Commission. When he announced it, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg stated that one key reason for the government’s interest was that mental health services were costing government more than $1 million every hour. There is clearly political and community concern to ensure value for money from this expenditure.

We all have a vested interest in ensuring that young people can finish their education, find and keep a job and go on to live what the National Mental Health Commission has deemed "a contributing life". This is why the Productivity Commission’s interest in mental health is a significant opportunity. It offers contemporary Australia the chance to consider mental health beyond the prism of illness and medical interventions. We can think about how best to arrange our employment, education, housing and other services to give everyone the best chance of living well in the community.

The capacity to connect these hospital-based services with community services is critical. The ROGS report reveals some success, with the number of people reporting contact with community health services after public hospital discharge increasing from 46 per cent to 68 per cent between 2007-08 and 2015-16. However, this apparent improvement is not reflected in significantly reduced rates of readmission with 28 days of discharge (14.8 per cent in 2006-07 and 14.6 per cent in 2015-16). The suicide rate per 100,000 Australians was 10.6 in 2007 and is 11.8 now.

It is more than 25 years since Australia’s first national mental health strategy. The 2018 ROGS report clearly maps the limits of our achievements. Key indicators barely improve or do not. It casts significant doubt on the merit of continued investment in current patterns of mental health service delivery.

Dr Sebastian Rosenberg, CMHR Fellow

you can read the full published article on The Canberra Times website