Doctors are calling for a national, overarching mental health plan, and proper investment into both prevention and treatment of mental illnesses

Almost one in two Australian adults will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, yet mental health and psychiatric care are grossly underfunded when compared to physical health, says Australian Medical Association (AMA) President, Dr Michael Gannon.

Releasing the organisation’s latest position statement on mental healthDr Gannon says that strategic leadership is needed to integrate all components of mental health prevention and care.

“Many Australians will experience a mental illness at some time in their lives, and almost every Australian will experience the effects of mental illness in a family member, friend, or work colleague,” says Dr Gannon.

“For mental health consumers and their families, navigating the system and finding the right care at the right time can be difficult and frustrating.

“Community-managed mental health services have not been appropriately structured or funded since the movement towards deinstitutionalisation in the 1970s and 1980s, which shifted much of the care and treatment of people with a mental illness out of institutions and into the community.

“The AMA Position Statement supports coordinated and properly funded community-managed mental health services for people with psychosocial disability, as this will reduce the need for costly hospital admissions.”

The position statement calls for governments to address underfunding in mental health services and programs for adolescents, refugees and migrants, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people in regional and remote areas.

It also calls for government recognition and support for carers of people with mental illness.

“Caring for people with a mental illness is often the result of necessity, not choice, and can involve very intense demands on carers,” Dr Gannon said.

“Access to respite care is vital for many people with mental illness and their families, who bear the largest burden of care.”

See the full position statement here.

7 key points about mental illness in Australia

  • 7.3 million Australians (45%) aged 16 to 85 will experience a common mental health disorder, such as depression, anxiety, or substance use disorder, in their lifetime.
  • Almost 64,000 people have a psychotic illness and are in contact with public specialised mental health services each year.
  • 560,000 children and adolescents aged four to 17 (about 14%) experienced mental health disorders in 2012-13.
  • Australians living with schizophrenia die 25 years earlier than the general population, mainly due to poor heart health.
  • Almost one in three (30%) of Indigenous adults suffered high or very high levels of psychological distress in 2012-13. Indigenous adults are 2.7 times as likely as non-Indigenous adults to suffer these levels of distress.
  • General practitioners manage mental health problems for Indigenous Australians at 1.3 times the rate for other Australians, and mental health-related conditions accounted for 4.4 per cent of hospitalisations of Indigenous people in 2012-13.
  • About $8.5 billion is spent every year on mental health-related services in Australia, including residential and community services, hospital-based services (both inpatient and outpatient), and consultations with GPs and other specialists.