Towards zero

The Health Minister has announced a series of plans to improve Australia’s mental health, including aiming for a zero suicide target

Delivering a world-best mental health system is the main focus of the Government’s Long-Term National Health Plan, outlined today at the Press Club in Canberra by Greg Hunt.

“For the first time, mental health will be rated equally alongside physical health,” Mr Hunt said.

“The Long Term National Health Plan recognises that depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and psychosis are health problems to be treated just like diabetes, asthma and broken bones.

“It charts the way forward over the next three and 10 years in the key areas of mental health, primary care, hospitals, preventive health and medical research.”

The plan includes a 2030 Mental Health vision, which includes a new strategy specifically for children under 12 years of age.

“The new Children’s Mental Health Strategy focuses on the 0–12 age group, and aims to maintain mental wellbeing and prevent mental ill health. It will improve delivery of supports for early childhood, parenting and early education,” said the Minister.

“We know that half of all symptoms of mental illness begin before the age of 14, and that neuropsychiatric conditions are the leading cause of disability in young people. If untreated, these conditions severely influence how children develop, and how they do at school and in life.

“The Children’s Mental Health Strategy will provide a framework to embed protective skills in early childhood, create mentally healthy home environments, support parents, and prevent or treat early childhood trauma.”

Tackling stigma around mental illness will be a key focus of the plan, and people will be encouraged to seek help early on.

“Enormous progress has been made on destigmatisation, but self-stigma – people’s self-consciousness about their own mental health concerns remains high. It is the main barrier to people seeking help,” Mr Hunt said.

“As a Government, and through the nation’s leaders, organisations, schools and the community, we will work to ensure there will be no shame – in particular, no shame in our own mental health challenges – when we reach out for help.

“The Government is undertaking unprecedented action to reduce the rates of suicide, particularly for our young people and Indigenous Australians. More than 3,120 recorded suicides in 2017 – part of an upward trend over the past decade – is a national tragedy.

“The Government will establish a ‘towards zero’ suicide target and culture through a whole-of-government approach driven by Australia’s first National Suicide Prevention Adviser, Christine Morgan.

“One of the specific priority areas for the next round of the Government’s Million Minds mental health research mission will be research on suicide prevention. Funding of $8 million will be made available to support this research with a round to be opened for competitive application in November 2019.”

The Pharmacy Guild welcomed the strong focus on mental health and congratulated him on the zero suicide target and the National Children’s Mental Health Strategy.

The National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, George Tambassis said: “As Mr Hunt noted, we have an extraordinary health system but one which faces many challenges, none bigger than the scourge of mental ill-health.

“We need long-term thinking on addressing mental health issues in the community, and that is what Mr Hunt provided today,” he said.

As the most accessible of all health professionals, local community pharmacists have a vital role in helping patients manage these issues, he said.

For example, many community pharmacies now provide services to help people who are experiencing depression and increasing numbers of community pharmacists have undertaken courses in mental health first aid.

“More and more pharmacies now have a private consultation space available for difficult and sensitive conversations with patients when they arise,” Mr Tambassis said.

The easy accessibility of community pharmacies for mental health patients is most important, said the Guild, saying pharmacists are ideally placed to recognise potential early signs or symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders in the community pharmacy setting.

“Community pharmacies are the most accessible place to get health advice. It makes sense to make the most of pharmacists as part of the solution to the healthcare concerns of Australians, including around mental health,” Mr Tambassis said.

Read the full plan here.

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