Will the promised Victorian royal commission into mental health fix a strained system?

Amanda Lyons

26/11/2018 2:19:37 PM

Healthcare professionals are divided over the usefulness of the State Government’s promised royal commission into mental health in the wake of its election victory.

Some health professionals are uncertain about the usefulness of the Victorian Government’s proposed royal commission into mental health.
Some health professionals are uncertain about the usefulness of the Victorian Government’s proposed royal commission into mental health.

The weekend’s Victorian state election delivered a landslide victory for the existing Labor Government, with Premier Daniel Andrews declaring on that voters had ‘overwhelmingly endorsed a positive and optimistic plan for our state’.
Part of Labor’s election plans concern the establishment of a royal commission into mental health, a promise Premier Andrews announced in late October.
‘[The royal commission] is going to give us the answers we need,’ he said. ‘It is going to change lives. It is going to save lives.
‘Only a royal commission will help us build the mental health system our community deserves.’
Mental illness remains a serious health issue in Victoria and throughout the country, with one in five Australians experiencing a mental health illness or disorder, and almost half experiencing a mental health condition at some point in their lives. In addition, the national suicide rate has spiked to its highest rate in the past decade, more than 3000 Australians, and more than 600 Victorians, taking their own lives in a year.
In the face of these challenges, however, Victoria also has the lowest funding per head of population of all the states and territories for mental health – despite significant funding boosts from the State Government.
This has led to what many refer to as a ‘broken’ mental health system, which is what Premier Andrews has said he hopes to fix with the results of the royal commission.
But some critics have argued there have been more than enough inquiries and investigations into mental health in Australia, and that what is now needed is funding and implementation. These critics include Professor Ian Hickie, a former national mental health commissioner, who wants actions rather than words.
‘It doesn’t take that much effort to call an inquiry or a royal commission,’ he said.
Professor Hickie believes the key problem in Victoria is the transferral of funding from the clinical and community mental health sector towards the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
‘To fix that doesn’t require a royal commission, it requires an admission by the State Government that there was a fundamental mistake,’ he said. ‘The Premier needs to be big enough to say it doesn’t matter which government made the mistake, but his government is going to fix it and fund both.’

GP and psychodynamic psychotherapist Dr James Antoniadis is hopeful the results of a royal commission would provide guidance about how best to reform mental health care in Victoria.

But Dr James Antoniadis, a Victorian-based GP and psychodynamic psychotherapist, believes the current mental health system requires significant reform as well as additional funding, and the proposed royal commission could help to point the way forward.
‘It would be like, if your car’s not working properly, spending a lot of money on giving it a nice paint job,’ he told newsGP. ‘You’ve got to work out what’s wrong before you can direct the money adequately and properly in order to make a difference to the underlying problem.
‘And I don’t think we really know enough about [the underlying problems]. Or, even if we do, I don’t think the real causes are commonly agreed upon.
‘There are a lot of different factions within the mental health world; what we’ve got at the moment is a mental health system that’s as confused as the mental health diagnostic structure.’
Dr Antoniadis is hopeful the results of a royal commission would provide firm guidance about how best to reform mental health care, and could perhaps prove beneficial beyond Victoria’s borders.
‘I think the findings of a royal commission, if it’s done properly, will be able to assist all of Australia in better understanding and designing of the mental health system,’ he said.
‘It might even be something that the rest of the world can learn from.’

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Kevin Walsh RFD CPA, Former Mayor Greater Dandenong   29/11/2018 12:25:38 PM

I agree mental health has a funding issue. That said mental health is a major social and community problem. Some of the most effective solutions will be community based and preventative in nature and will probably not be readily addressed by an excessively medical focus.
Reducing stigma, creating non judgmental spaces for open communication and addressing bullying in schools are all part of addressing this issue. These are community responses that need to be addressed at a community level.