The Productivity Commission has revealed 3.9 million of us are living with mental illness, and it’s costing the country an estimated A$500 million per day.
Among a broad range of findings, it reports one million people with mental illness are not accessing services, 75% of people who have mental illness develop symptoms before they turn 25.
The draft report in many ways lives up to expectations. It recognises improving the nation’s mental health requires action far beyond the health system, and recommends changes covering education, workplaces, housing and justice.
It also recognises that mental illness has its major impact in young people, in contrast to physical illness, where the burden is more concentrated later in life.
The draft report recognises services need to focus on children and young people, and covers prevention and early intervention as a key area for reform.
In terms of prevention, the report recommends routine assessment of social and emotional development early in childhood to allow early intervention of at-risk children.
It also recommends expansion of parent education programs through child and family health centres, recognising parents’ behaviour can affect their kids’ mental health.
It’s a start for Mental Care
The report’s recommendation for increased parent education could potentially contribute to reducing these risk factors, but too often the families at greatest risk don’t participate in these programs.
We need to see a gradual shift in social norms across the whole community to promote parenting behaviours that cause illness, while reducing those that increase risk.
There has been a welcome increase in community awareness of the adverse mental health impacts of child sexual abuse, but it’s not widely known that emotional abuse of children can have similar effects.
We need to broaden understanding of the links between adverse childhood experiences and mental disorders among both the public and health professionals. Health and welfare professionals working with children should be trained to routinely enquire about childhood adversities in order to initiate early intervention and lessen their impact.