Who’s Really Benefiting From Mental Health Support This Budget?

There’s a lot of funding this year, but where is it going?

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The Morrison Government has committed nearly $3 billion for mental health and suicide prevention in this year’s Federal Budget, but has been wishy-washy about how young people will be catered for.

An additional $547 million was announced to build off last year’s commitments, going towards the new National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention plan over a five-year period. The key focuses between state, territory, and federal governments are in prevention and early intervention, treatment, governance, and supporting vulnerable Australians.

“Mental illness can be completely debilitating for patients and their families,” said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in his annual Budget Speech. “Too many people are living lives of quiet desperation,” he said, claiming no other government has invested more in mental health services.

Young People In Crisis

The announcements come after a health survey from the Bureau of Statistics last Monday found that nearly 20 percent of people aged 15 to 24 had anxiety, and 14 percent had depression, since the start of the pandemic.

“From being ushered into remote learning, disruptions to daily routines, to loss of social connections, young people across the nation had to abruptly grapple with multiple changes over the pandemic,” said Street Youth Services Manager at Humanity Matters, Selim Ucar.

By the prime minister’s own quoted statistics, one in four Australians aged 16 to 24 will experience mental illness in any given year, and nearly 30 percent of young people with moderate to severe mental health problems have not accessed any mental health services.

There have been no additional sessions added to the mental health treatment plan program, nor any measures to help young Australians with non-severe mental health concerns get seen by government-funded foundations in the new budget for 2022-23 and beyond.

Front And Centre

Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt said in a statement that vulnerable young Australians experiencing or at risk of psychosis will benefit from $206.5 million funding to headspace, in a move sure to be welcomed by the group who announced they’re channelling nearly 700 healthcare students into the workforce last week to address climbing wait times for young people using the service.

Budget papers also reflect nearly $2 million over two years to continue running a mental health literacy app, and over $6 million over the next five years for online education modules on mental health and wellbeing, as well as $1.6 million to the YMCA for young people experiencing mental ill-health in Victoria’s Southern Mornington Peninsula.

School children were a big focus in this year’s budget, with millions going towards a national measure of student wellbeing , and resilience support for school-aged kids affected by recent floods in the Northern Rivers region in NSW.

Where Else Is Funding Going?

While Lifeline will get a boost of more than $52 million over the next four years, only half a million dollars will go towards helping improve emergency department facilities for vulnerable patients with mental health issues.

Additionally, people in NSW will be offered mental health support if going through mandatory COVID isolation through wellbeing group Sonder and tailored suicide prevention measures will be implemented in regional Indigenous communities.

The mental health workforce will also see $12 million of funding over the next five years for training, recruitment drives, stigma reduction to funnel more students into the industry, and more.

Looking To The Future

Ucar said that while it is positive to see the government recognise the urgency of Australia’s mental health crisis, there needs to be further reassurance to marginalised youth who are often overlooked.

“Availability is one thing, but accessibility is another. We need to create a health system that is better at reaching and targeting the young people who slip out of sight, one that can engage with young people no matter where they are — be it on the streets, train stations, or under-resourced areas.”

He would have liked to see investments in programs to rebuild confidence and engagement in young people, youth employment opportunities, more tailored mental health programs, better welfare options, and more support for community organisations.

“We know that specialised services that exist outside of typical settings will ensure inclusivity so that those who slip out of the mainstream are seen, heard, and supported.”