The Fourth National Mental Health Plan: an agenda for collaborative government action in mental health 2009-2014 was endorsed by the Australian Health Ministers' Conference on 4 September 2009 and launched on 13 November 2009. Endorsement of the Fourth Plan represents commitment by all governments to implementation of the following vision for mental health set out in the National Mental Health Policy 2008:

"... a mental health system that enables recovery, that prevents and detects mental illness early and ensures that all Australians with a mental illness can access effective and appropriate treatment and community support to enable them to participate fully in the community."

The following principles underpin the Fourth Plan and are fundamental to realising the aims of the Plan:

  • Respect for the rights and needs of consumers, carers and families
  • Services delivered with a commitment to a recovery approach
  • Social inclusion
  • Recognition of social, cultural and geographical diversity and experience
  • Recognition that the focus of care may be different across the life span
  • Services delivered to support continuity and coronation of care
  • Service equity across areas, communities and age groups and
  • Consideration of the spectrum of mental health, mental health problems and mental illness.
The Fourth Plan has five priority areas for government action in mental health:
  1. Social inclusion and recovery
  2. Prevention and early intervention
  3. Service access, coordination and continuity of care
  4. Quality improvement and innovation and
  5. Accountability - measuring and reporting progress. Top of page
The Fourth Plan identifies 34 key actions that will make meaningful progress towards fulfilling the vision of the policy. While led by health ministers, the Plan takes a whole of government approach through involving sectors other than just health. The Fourth Plan will provide a basis for governments to advance mental health activities within the various portfolio areas in a more integrated way, recognising that many sectors can contribute to better outcomes for people living with mental illness.

The Fourth Plan adopts a population health framework approach to mental health and mental illness. This framework recognises the complex range of causes and outcomes of both mental health and mental illness and acknowledges the importance of mental health issues throughout the lifespan, and across the diverse population groups that exist in Australia.

When drafting the Fourth Plan the MHSC was aware of the increased risk of mental illness amongst a number of specific groups within the Australian community. However, it was not possible to adequately capture the needs of these groups in the Plan, when the inclusion of one group would result in the exclusion of another and would make the Plan a long list of vulnerability and risk factors as well as a document of special circumstances that needed to be considered at all times.

Implementation of the actions in the Plan will involve consultation with relevant stakeholders. These separate consultations will be as inclusive and as broad as possible to ensure appropriate consideration is given to the implementation issues for specific population groups.

Governments have developed the implementation strategy to provide a tool to guide implementation and provide for quantitative and qualitative measurement of the progress of implementation of the Fourth Plan. This will enable shorter to medium term measures of progress to be reported on and accommodates the different stages of mental health reform across the jurisdictions.