• Hannah Phillips

Inquiry into Mental Health is about Business

On Sunday the government announced that the Productivity Commission (PC) would conduct an inquiry into the impact of mental health on the economy.

Mental health activists leapt on the report arguing that the PC should do for mental health what they did for the disability sector and establish a mental health support system modelled along insurance lines.

However the government has made it plain that the emphasis should be on the impact of mental health in the workplace.

The Productivity Commission will investigate the impact of mental health on the Australian economy and identify the ways workplaces can better support people living with mental health conditions.

“It’s focusing on the causes and the prevalence of mental health, the ability to recognise it, and help provide treatment, support and recovery within the workplace,” said Health Minister Greg Hunt.

Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed a 9.1% jump in suicide rates last year, increasing to 12.6 deaths in every 100,000 people in 2017, overtaking the World Health Organisation’s global average of 10.6 in every 100,000.

The government expects to spend $4.7 billion on mental health services this year alone.

“We know that with 4 million Australians being affected by mental health conditions every year, the workplace can be an absolutely central point for identifying, for helping to provide support and for helping to provide recovery,” Mr Hunt said.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said it was appropriate to have the Commission look at how effectively the funding is being spent.

He said that one in five Australians are living with a mental health issue and are not seeking help due to stigma.

“It is crucial that we know that this funding is delivering the best possible outcomes for individuals and their families, and that is one of the issues the inquiry will investigate,” Mr Frydenberg said in a statement.

The inquiry will recommend to the government measures to improve mental health, as well as social and workforce participation and productivity.

The inquiry was welcomed by many, including Labor’s mental health spokeswoman, Julie Collins. However, Ms Collins said the inquiry shouldn’t be used to delay action on mental health.

In a joint statement with Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation and Mental Health, Deborah O’Neill, the two suggested that the government should immediately adopt the National Mental Health Commission’s target, which is striving to halve the number of suicides in ten years.

In a joint statement on Sunday, the opposition spokeswomen said last month’s Bureau of Statistics data revealed 3,128 Australians died by suicide in 2017, an increase of 262 deaths from the previous year.

“These statistics are a stark reminder of the work that needs to be done to address this serious national issue,” they said.

“Too often the Abbott - Turnbull - Morrison government has played catch-up in this vital area of policy.

“It took almost a year of Labor publicly calling on the Liberal government to extend the suicide prevention trial sites before it finally announced it would do so.

“[And] the minister for health is yet to deliver on his promise to produce a comprehensive plan for specific treatment for Australians who are living with eating disorders.”

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