Strengthening mental health care

This measure reflects the Australian Government’s 2016 mental health election commitments – with more help for young people with mental illness, steps towards a national approach to suicide prevention, and new investment in digital mental health technologies. In a separate measure, the new digital gateway will be expanded and promoted. Integrated with the Government’s mental health reforms announced in 2015, these measures form a single reform package entitled ‘Strengthening mental health care in Australia’.

Page last updated: 19 December 2016

Why is this important?

The cost of mental illness to Australians is enormous. The National Mental Health Commission has noted estimates range up to $40 billion a year in direct costs, lost productivity and job turnover.

The need for mental health care is increasing across Australia, especially among 12–25 year olds, veterans, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people in rural and remote areas.

Suicide is an issue that affects all Australians. Over the past 10 years, the suicide rate in Australia has steadily increased with more than 2,800 suicides a year, more than double the annual road toll. Suicide is the leading cause of death of Australians aged between 15 and 44.

The ‘Strengthening mental health care in Australia’ reform package demonstrates the Government’s consolidated and coordinated approach to improving mental health for all Australians. Central to these reforms is a regional approach, with Primary Health Networks (PHNs) now responsible for commissioning mental health and suicide prevention services within a stepped care model.

The election commitments reflected in the package are:

Headspace – mild to moderate youth mental health. The headspace network will be increased from 100 headspace centres to 110 across Australia by 2019. Approaches to expand services to regional areas will be trialled.

Youth mental health – Early Psychosis Youth Services Program. This continues efforts to reduce the impact of severe mental illness on young Australians aged 12–25 and their families by restoring funding to six Early Psychosis Youth Services (EPYS) for three years. During this time, the program will be independently evaluated. Orygen, the centre for excellence in youth mental health, will provide guidance, support and expert advice to PHNs commissioning early intervention services for young people with, or at risk of, severe mental illness.

Suicide prevention trial sites. Suicide prevention trial sites, 12 in total, will be located in regional areas across Australia, targeting high risk groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, veterans, youth, men, people experiencing economic hardship and people who have attempted, or are considered at risk of attempting, suicide. This additional funding to conduct suicide prevention trials is being provided to four PHN lead sites and a further eight sites in identified priority areas, including at least two in regions with high Indigenous populations, as well as sites in Tasmania and regional South Australia.

Suicide Prevention Research Fund. This new fund will support targeted research to increase knowledge about the prevention of suicide. It will include a best practice hub of evidence-based resources to support PHN and service providers.

New investment in digital technologies for mental health. Funding will enable Project Synergy, which has been trialled as an online system of care, to continue as a research and capacity building project. Synergy will trial customised IT-based solutions, and develop the next generation of digital mental health services and apps. Funding will also enable Lifeline Australia to trial a new text service for crisis support and suicide prevention.

Promoting a sustainable and flexible mental health care nursing workforce. Funding to the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses will help develop the mental health care skills of the existing nursing workforce. It will also help mental health nurses to transition to the new primary mental health system.

Strengthening the independence of the National Mental Health Commission. The Commission’s role in independently advising the Government and monitoring the implementation of mental health reforms will be strengthened and made clearer.

Digital gateway. Digital mental health services offer the flexibility to provide communities, from major cities to remote locations, with personalised support and care that is easily accessible, often free or low cost, and as effective as traditional face to face services. First steps are being taken to enhance the new digital gateway. The gateway will seek to maximise the use of digital technologies and provide a multi-channel platform – web, social media and telephone – to enable people to access information, advice and treatment options that meet appropriate quality and safety standards. The digital gateway will be an essential part of the Government’s stepped care approach to mental health.

Who will benefit?

People living with mental illness will receive support under the Government’s ‘Strengthening mental health care in Australia’ package.

This measure will provide further access to mental health services Australia-wide by continuing implementation of the Government’s signature mental health reform agenda.

Young people aged 12–25 years across Australia, including in regional and remote areas, will have increased access to headspace services. Headspace provides holistic care for young people in mental health, related physical health, alcohol and substance abuse.

Young people with, or at risk of, severe mental illness will have access to six specialised headspace centre services across the country – South East Melbourne, Western Sydney, South East Queensland, North Perth, Northern Territory and Adelaide.

High risk groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander communities, veterans, youth, men, people experiencing economic hardship and people who have attempted, or are considered at risk of attempting, suicide will receive greater levels of assistance through suicide prevention trial sites located across regional areas.

PHNs and other services will have readily accessible evidence-based advice through the new suicide prevention research fund.

People living with mental illness will directly benefit from an appropriately skilled mental health care nurse workforce able to move more readily between acute, community and primary care. To date, the distribution of mental health nurses across the country has been inequitable, with patients not getting the care they need.

With digital technology emerging as an effective way to deliver mental health care, the next generation of digital mental health services and apps, including Lifeline’s trial – one of the first of its kind to delivered in Australia – will be of real benefit for people living with mental illness.

How much will this cost?

Strengthening mental health care in Australia – $194.5 million from 2019–2020.

This comprises:

headspace – mild to moderate youth mental health – $28.9 million.

Youth mental health – Early Psychosis Youth Services Program – $115.6 million.

Suicide prevention trial sites – $34.0 million.

Suicide Prevention Research Fund – $12.0 million.

New investment in digital technologies for mental health – $32.4 million.

Promoting a sustainable and flexible mental health care nursing workforce – $1.5 million.

A separate measure expands capacity and increases promotion of the digital gateway – $2.5 million.