Stakeholders have welcomed commitments from major parties to invest in Australia’s mental health.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced that, if re-elected, his Government would invest $192 million to help implement a National Suicide Prevention Strategy, including $24 million to fund an extra eight Suicide Prevention Trial sites in regional areas. Labor leader Bill Shorten, meanwhile, has said a Labor Government would commit $72 million to fund 12 regional suicide prevention projects.
The increased focus on the delivery of mental health services has been welcomed by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, with National President George Tambassis saying that community pharmacists, as the most accessible of health professionals, were often the first health professional a distressed person with mental health issues might see.
“Community pharmacists may often be available when a doctor is not,” Tambassis says.
“Community pharmacists can also undertake a mental health first aid course to further equip them in the initial counselling of mental health patients.
“In addition, community pharmacists know their regular patients and can quickly spot and identify when one of them is experiencing a mental health issue .”
Tambassis says community pharmacists play a pivotal role in ensuring medicines compliance for mental health patients.
“Maintaining a medicines regimen is very important and community pharmacists can talk to their patients about the medicine they’re taking, discuss and be alert to any adverse reactions and help set up medicines plans to ensure compliance.
“They can also can quickly refer the patient for further counselling or treatment when necessary.”
AMA President Dr Michael Gannon says the focus on mental health services is welcome.
“There is widespread recognition that the nation needs to do better in caring for people with mental illness,” he says.
“The commitment by both the Coalition and Labor to increase investment in suicide prevention and youth mental health services is recognition that this area of care needs significant investment.”
The announcements by both major parties comes against the backdrop of Government plans, outlined in its response to the National Mental Health Commission report on the mental health system, to transition Commonwealth mental health program funding to Primary Health Networks, which would have the lead role in planning and integrating mental health services.
Dr Gannon says the focus of the Government’s strategy on tailoring care to individual need and local service planning and delivery is important, but much will depend on the capacity and capability of individual PHNs.
Meanwhile, the Black Dog Institute has applauded the focus that has been placed on mental health by all major parties.
According to Prof Helen Christensen, Director of the Black Dog Institute and the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention, promised funds for mental health care, research and new technologies will benefit all Australians.
“We are particularly pleased to see their support of mental health technology, an area in which Black Dog Institute is leading the world,” she says.
“Technology such as smartphones, apps and online programs hold great promise, especially for a country as geographically and culturally diverse as Australia.
“The focus on scientific evidence at the heart of new policy is exemplary and will need to be matched by rigorous implementation.”