NMHC boss pushes for PM to take on mental health portfolio

THE head of the National Mental Health Commission has called on all Australian political leaders to have the courage to deal with problems in delivering mental health services.

In its first report on mental health services, the commission has revealed 65% of people with a mental health issue did not seek help in 2007.

It also found while 2.9 million Australians should be accessing mental health services, only 1.9 million people used the services in 2009-10.

Commission chairman Professor Allan Fels said while Australia was leading the world in mental health policy, the nation fell down when it came to actually delivering services to those in need.

He said there was a lack of accountability as to whether the services actually improved people wellbeing and health, with little or no follow up on outcomes.

The report also found people in rural and remote areas, as with many health issues, had lower rates of access to help for mental health problems.

It also found the proportion of people with a mental health condition who were not working was much greater than that of the general population, at 32% and 21% respectively.

Prof Fels said it was important for the Prime Minister to give mental health issues a seat at the top table by including the portfolio in her personal responsibilities.

He also called for more to be done across all governments, asking state and federal counterparts to renew their commitment to the issue through the Council of Australian Governments.

"Every Australian will experience a mental health difficulty themselves at some stage, or they will be impacted by the experiences of someone close to them," he said.

"One in five Australian adults experience a mental health difficulty in any given year, and an estimated 7.29 million Australians aged 16 to 85 have a lived experienced of mental illness."

Prof Fels described the connection between physical illness and early death among people with a mental health difficulty as "appalling".
"Their health is worse than the general community on just about every measure," he said.
"People with a severe mental illness have their life expectancy reduced by 25 years on average due to the increased likelihood of heart related conditions, diabetes and obesity.
"There are many contributing factors and there are no simple answers, but this demands immediate action."
Prof Fels also urged all political leaders to put their tensions aside and continue their bipartisan support for investments in mental health.