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Mental health groups urged to boycott new plan

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A prominent mental health advocate has blasted the Government’s draft Fifth National Mental Health Plan as “rubbish”, and called on mental health groups to boycott the consultation process.

The plan was released for consultation on 20 October, with Health Minister Sussan Ley describing it as “an important document” that was “focused on actions that will genuinely make a difference for consumers and carers”.

“The Fifth Plan contains seven priority areas, which have been identified for action in close collaboration with the mental health sector,” Ms Ley said in a statement.

But Professor John Mendoza, the former head of the Mental Health Council of Australia, said the plan would simply continue funding late-term intervention at the expense of prevention and early intervention.

Professor Mendoza called on colleagues at an international mental health conference in Brisbane that the consultation process should be boycotted.

“The plan does not reflect the Prime Minister’s commitment at the election ‘to leave no stone unturned when it comes to mental health’,” Professor Mendoza told The Australian, adding that the plan was “mealy-mouthed rubbish” designed by bureaucrats with no institutional knowledge.

“The plan does not take us one step further in relation to the Government’s announcements last November when it responded to the National Mental Health Commission report and it strongly endorsed the national commission’s recommendations.”

Professor Mendoza said that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had used the words “we need to really embrace innovation, we have to focus on the mental wealth of the nation”.

“And he was stating that because it was clear to him that the economic drag on Australia now, through its focus on acute, late-intervention services rather than early intervention and prevention, means that we have hundreds of thousands of Australians who are unable to participate in work, who are unable to complete education, who are unable to sustain and maintain relationships, because they simply can’t get access to the care they need,” Professor Mendoza said.

“The Commission said this isn’t good enough, we need fundamental reform. And the Government said that was what it was going to do.

“Now, the Fifth Plan that’s been released for consultation does nothing of the sort.

“It pays no attention to the Government’s reform agenda, and it certainly doesn’t marry up with what either the Queensland and NSW Governments [are doing] – two different sides of politics, both of them have articulated clear plans.

“This national plan is completely devoid of any specific actions, any measures, any targets.”

The seven priority areas are:

  • Integrated regional planning and service delivery;
  • Coordinated treatment and support for people with severe and complex mental illness;
  • Suicide prevention;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and suicide prevention;
  • Physical health of people living with mental health issues;
  • Stigma and discrimination reduction; and
  • Safety and quality in mental health care.

The Department of Health and Mental Health Australia will hold consultation meetings in all capital cities, as well as Townsville and Alice Springs, in November and December.

The final plan will be considered by the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council and the COAG Health Ministers’ Council early next year.

Maria Hawthorne