Inquiry into ‘broken’ mental health system begins

Matt Woodley

2/07/2019 3:17:16 PM

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health system has been dubbed a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for reform’.

Andrew Robb
Former trade minister Andrew Robb, one of four witnesses on day one of the Royal Commission, believes ‘hundreds of thousands’ of people live and die with a mental illness. (Image: David Crosling)

Commission Chair Penny Armytage prefaced the inquiry’s public hearings on Tuesday by stating the overall goal is to design a system for the future, adding the ‘clear message’ is that more of the same would not be enough.
‘The calling of this Royal Commission is … an acknowledgement that the mental health system is broken,’ she said.
‘We don’t want to fill in the potholes, we want a new road.’
The Royal Commission has already spoken to more than 1600 people and received in excess of 1000 written submissions.  Ms Armytage said the personal and often painful stories have had a ‘deep impact’ on the commissioners.
‘We have heard about people wanting to get help, to be told they were not sick enough or not suicidal enough to receive care,’ she said.
‘One parent told us about the stark difference in support they received for one child with cancer and one with a mental health condition.
‘In these stories there is often an acknowledgement that while sometimes our health is a lottery, our mental health system should not be.’
Evidence provided to the commission points to an overall rise in the prevalence of emergency department presentations for mental health issues, eating disorders, and mental illness linked to alcohol and drugs like ice. Ms Armytage said the four commissioners have been especially troubled by reports of children in distress and increasing suicide rates among young people.
‘Young people are more likely to die by suicide than in a road accident,’ she said.
‘We find this evidence confronting, that our young people, our very young people, are not enjoying good mental health and are increasingly experiencing high levels of distress.’
The Victorian Government has already pledged to implement all of the inquiry’s recommendations, despite the expected substantial investment such an undertaking would require.
Victorian Mental Health Minister Martin Foley said the current ‘broken’ system costs $2 billion annually and that increased funding has not produced better results.
‘Whatever the recommendations that come out of this royal commission are, the Government guaranteed it will implement those recommendations,’ he said.
‘We know that will be costly but this Government has a proven track record in the space of social policy reform of funding pathways to building better systems.’
Mental health advocate and retired AFL footballer Wayne Schwass and former trade minister Andrew Robb were two of four witnesses to provide evidence on the first day. Both spoke about the stigma attached to mental health.
‘I think there are hundreds of thousands who just live with it and die with it,’ Mr Robb said.
‘In many cases no one really knows about it.’
According to Ms Armytage, more than 20% of Victorians experience a mental health condition in any given year, while nearly half will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.
‘When it comes to our families and loved ones, there is a one-in-two chance they will experience a mental health condition during their lifetime,’ she said.
‘It is estimated that mental health conditions are more prevalent in our community than all cancers combined.’
The Royal Commission is accepting submissions until 5 July and will deliver an interim report by November. A final report is slated for October 2020.

mental health royal commission Victoria

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Dr Gwenyth Francis   3/07/2019 7:22:19 AM

I am a general practitioner who chose to study psychotherapy as there were patients of mine not doing well with the current mental health system whilst others did. The issue for this quite large group of people, was the fact that they had suffered significant maltreatment, attachment disturbance, loss and abuse in childhood. The ACE study confirms this and neuroscience is demonstrating there are brain developmental structures that occur because of childhood maltreatment and the risk of mental illness, addictions and suicide rises significantly. For these people, the impact of trauma and the havoc it has created in their lives needs to be addressed and this requires longer term therapies in a safe relationship as they do not respond well to cognitive behavioural therapy. They become at high risk for suicide, PTSD, resistant depression, eating disorders, even psychosis and a revolving door in the drug and alcohol unit. The approach for these people needs to change.