Issue 1 / 2 July 2010

IT’S a fair bet that Kevin Rudd won’t be doing a spell on the psychiatrist’s couch to help him through the trauma of his dramatic ousting from the leadership.

Psychiatrists probably rank just above miners in Rudd’s personal lexicon of favourite professions these days, in the murky depths below used car salesmen and journalists.

Who would have thought mental health could rise from its accustomed poor relation status to become a key election issue, even perhaps playing a role in toppling a Prime Minister?

John Mendoza may have been overstating the case a tad when he apparently suggested to a Queensland newspaper it was the leaking of his resignation letter that kicked off the campaign to get rid of Rudd. Clearly, the former PM had the odd other problem as well.

Still, when your own chief adviser on mental health quits in outrage at inadequate funding for the sector, it fuels perceptions you’re not really on top of your game.

And then there’s Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry, who hasn’t minced words about his disappointment with the government either. Rudd must have wondered why on earth he didn’t insist on giving the honour to a cricketer rather than a psychiatrist.

The Rudd government did achieve one thing: an unaccustomed unity between the various mental health lobby groups. They may not agree on what they want, but they all know they want something.

McGorry believes the sector’s revolt was sparked by Council of Australian Governments’  failure earlier this year to deliver anything meaningful for mental health, despite having health reform at the top of its agenda.

“Everybody was a bit stunned that they left it out of the equation,” he told me last week. “It’s not just me and John Mendoza. They can’t just pick one or two of us off. The whole leadership of the mental health sector is at odds with the government.”

If there’s a political lesson from all this, it’s that you can’t embark on major health reform and pretty much ignore one of the most disadvantaged sectors in the country.

Mental health services have now become a public issue as never before and, with negative headlines mounting, Rudd summoned McGorry to Canberra for a meeting two weeks ago. The psychiatrist expected a “peace offering” but instead saw the PM lose his job.

McGorry has now joined the long queue of people seeking an urgent meeting with Julia Gillard.

And, with the Opposition now having pledged $1.5 billion for mental health, McGorry is hoping this daughter of a psychiatric nurse will be prepared to make promises of her own.

 

Posted: 5 July, 2010

Jane McCredie is a Sydney-based science and medicine writer. She has worked for Melbourne’s The Age and contributed to publications including the BMJ, The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald. She is also a former news and features editor with Australia Doctor magazine. Her book, The Sex Factory, on the science of sex and gender will be published by UNSW Press later this year.


2 thoughts on “Jane McCredie: Mental health and the PM’s downfall

  1. Anonymous says:

    It is time mental health attracted the funding it needs

  2. Frustrated says:

    The lack of a response to address the woefully inadequate state of mental health services was certainly a surprise given the feed-back to the government.

    As a Paediatrician and Adolescent Physician in a rural/regional setting we have seen the incidence and acuity of mental health issues in young people increase substantially over the last several years whilst services have been static or declined.

    I and some of my colleagues had the opportunity to brief Mr Rudd and Nicola Roxon in November last year when they visited Bathurst Base Hospital on the issue pointing out that at times up to half of our acute paediatric/adolescent admissions to the hospital were there primarily for acute mental health issues – a marked change over a few years.

    Acute admissions likely reflect the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of mental health issues as well as being a symptom of the lack of capacity for timely initial assessment and treatment to prevent the need for admission.

    The lack of effective response by state and federal governments/ Health Departments past and current along with the growing disparity between metropolitan and regional areas in mental health related services is shameful.

    Rod McClymont
    Bathurst, NSW

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