Mental wellbeing election concern
From Health cover To date, still not all states have heeded his request.
Both sides of politics are seeking to win support from the mental health sector in the run-up to the election, and the MIFA has sent the findings — including its recommendations for action — to both main political parties.
Labor health spokeswoman Nicola Roxon earlier this week delivered a speech to open the Mental Health Foundation of Australia’s annual conference, in which she praised the Howard Government’s ‘‘ significant commitments’’ to mental health, and pledged that a Labor Government would continue them.
She said governments ‘‘ need to take mental health issues seriously’’ and noted that in Australia the rate of employment of people with mental health issues is about half the OECD average.
Labor has already announced a $60 million plan to screen pregnant women and new mothers for post-natal depression, and Roxon said Labor would devise an integrated national mental health plan, and target resources at prevention and early intervention.
Kroschel says the shortages in accommodation mean even patients who are not priced out of the market entirely end up paying sky-high rents, eating up 90 per cent of their pensions in some cases, leaving them with next to nothing for food or clothing.
In other cases, while some may get a place in residential rehabilitation programs, these place restrictions on length of stay.
Without suitable alternative accommodation to move into, residents can end up in rooming houses or other shared units that might not have proper kitchen or other facilities — meaning that they promptly lose the cooking, budgeting, shopping or other skills the rehabilitation centres are there to teach them.
‘‘ In the UK, any property developer that wants to tear down a house and put up four units in its place, in order to get a permit they have to agree to buy a flat somewhere else, renovate it to the standards required by the government, and sell it back to the government to be part of the public housing stock,’’ he says.
‘‘ Then they can get the permit for the redevelopment, and they get the profit when they sell those units. They have turned around the lack of affordable housing for people with mental health problems by doing this.
‘‘ The survey result doesn’t surprise me because in talking to agencies, staff, and consumers, I know that housing is the biggest issue.
‘‘ I don’t know how in Melbourne we can have homeless outreach psychology services — the stress of being homeless means people will have (mental ill-health) episode after episode.
‘‘ If you provide them with housing, you take away the stresses (and) you take away the episodes. You can’t do much if you have no food and you’re living on the streets.’’
The MIFA has made a number of recommendations which it says are necessary to deal with the problems identified in the survey results.
These include incorporating housing as an issue in the next national mental health plan; reserving a set proportion of funding specifically for people with a psychiatric illness in the next commonwealth-state housing agreement, due to be signed by July 2008; and amending assessment rules so that people with psychiatric disabilities are considered on an equivalent basis with physically disabled people.
It also calls for the next mental health plan to include a role for rehabilitation programs focused on preparing people recovering from a mental illness to re-enter the job market. It also wants more funding for specialist employment services for people with mental illness.
Research funding should also be increased, the recommendations say. At present Australia only spends $6.1 million on schizophrenia research annually, equivalent to 0.23 per cent of the total cost of the illness, or less than $1 for every $400 in treatment costs.