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Doorstop interview about mental health, suicide rates and Indigenous health

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt talking about mental health, suicide rates and Indigenous health.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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Thanks very much to Martin and Lauren and Jenny for all of your words.

To Adam for sharing Anne’s story and Adam, as a (inaudible) worker, you’ve experienced some of the challenges yourself and to hear what Anne had to say, that was in any words, a glowing testimonial and to Abby (inaudible) for your wonderful humanity in the way you talk about the clients, the people you're helping and especially to (inaudible) for your welcome.

It’s obviously a very generous welcome. But you touched on something even more significant and that's the challenge that Indigenous Australia faces with mental health, with suicidality with the loss of beautiful lives.

And we know that when we look at the Indigenous suicide rates, the average age of people who are losing their lives is significantly lower than across the general population.

So the frequency tragically is twice the general population, but the average age is more than a decade younger than the general population.

So that means we have deep and profound responsibilities.

So I want to thank everybody for being part of this.

So today is about the humanity of taking care of people with mental health challenges with all of the hardship which comes with that. And I speak as somebody who, like virtually every Australian, has witnessed this within their own circle.

We know that in any one year, four million Australian, I think it's worth repeating that - four million Australians will have some form of mental health challenge and over the course of our lives, almost half of us.

And so each of us will be engaged with this either ourselves or our family.

For me, my mother had some very, very significant challenges in terms of bipolar whilst I was growing up and that had an impact on her life quite dramatically.

And services such as this were not available at the time and nor was there the long community process of destigmatisation of acknowledging the challenges.

And both of these elements are occurring together, of making the space for people to seek help and then providing the help that they need. And that's what this is about providing the help that people need.

So what are psychosocial services?

Psychosocial services helping people with day to day living where they have mental health conditions.

It could be postnatal depression. It could be somebody with severe anxiety, it could be somebody with depression but they are not part of the NDIS because it's not, either in terms of the intensity or the duration.

So it's absolutely critical that we provide these supports. And the examples of the support could be that for a mum with postnatal depression, even though it's a temporary condition in many cases, sometimes it tragically becomes- is extended to have permanent elements.

But they can be bed bound, they can have lost their confidence and this means that the services that- Flourish and Woden Community Services provide, could assist them with taking care of an older toddler, you know, the first child.

It might help with going to the shops. It might help them in integrating with the community and getting to a mother's group. So the isolation is broken down and some of the fear and anxiety can be addressed.

Equally, it could be somebody who's older, who might have retired or lost their job and they've become isolated, they've become depressed. And at the same time their health, their physical health has suffered.

And so it's getting them involved in walking groups. It's taking them to the shops. It's practical things that allow them to live their lives and to assist with their day to day activities, so they can be more integrated, so as they won't be alone and they can actually have a better quality of life and a better pathway to recovery.

Those are the two big things.

And so this program came about shortly after I came into office, we realised that there was a potential looming gap with the creation- the very, very valuable creation of the NDIS.

There was the risk that some of the services which had been provided for psychosocial would be drawn into the NDIS and there would have been a gap for people outside of that. And so we put on the table $80 million to be matched by the states and territories.

And I want to thank all of the states and territories for signing up and matching the funding. The ACT has done this and as a result of that, we've been able to create the National Psycho Social Services Measure. Really, this is about day-to-day living support for people who need that extra help.

That's really what psychosocial services are about.

And the ACT has come to the party and I want to acknowledge and thank them. We have the Capital Health Network, Martin has done a great job and then the partners that you’ve commissioned - Flourish and Woden Community Services, they’re doing a great job.

I met one of your workers Paula before, (inaudible) that’s the same name as my wife. Paula, where are you? Hand up Paula. Yep, there we go. So we have Paula and so many others who are doing this.

So today, is our day to acknowledge your work to assist all of the clients such as Anne.

So with that, I am delighted to officially launch the National Psychosocial Services Measure here in the ACT. Ultimately, it's about saving lives, protecting lives and supporting patients.

Thank you.

(Inaudible) I'm happy with Martin and Lauren to take any questions on the program and then I'll take questions on any other matters after that.


All right. Minister. So if we could maybe have the partners in the program – Flourish.


That’s alright. Okay. Any questions on mental health psychosocial services? Alright. Anything on other issues for the day?


Can you talk us through the funding that's being provided, how much is it specifically for the ACT?


One point three million dollars for the ACT through this program and we have funding from the ACT Government and the ACT has matched, as part of our program, this and I believe to their credit, they’ve also put in some additional funding, right?


Yes, that's correct. So it equates to about $1.8 million across the four years from ACT Health as well as then $1.2 to $1.6 I think from the Commonwealth for that area as well.


Is that enough? You said that there’s obviously quite a significant gap here in the ACT.


So this is on top of other funding that we do provide. So all up, we're providing $5.3 billion of mental health funding just this year alone across Australia. But this is a very targeted service.

But I am very willing to look and consider additional funding if that's required and if the program is successful.

All of the signs are that after the very early days of the program, listening to Anne's testimonial that this is actually going to make a real difference.

And one of the things that the Prime Minister's been focusing on is how do we assist people in prevention and recovery? So there’s excellent treatment.

So prevention and recovery is about making sure that where you see the early signs, we're able to assist and in particular, this program’s able to do that and it's also critical in the recovery. So many people will have been discharged from acute services from hospitals.

And what this program will do, it will allow them to recover because we know that the highest rate of suicide not by Indigeneity or other criteria is that period where somebody has been discharged from hospital.

And if we can help people after that time where they've been admitted to hospital for suicidality or self-harm or attempted suicide and if we can give them that support, then that is the single biggest indicator in reducing the national suicide rate.


I’ve got a question for Lauren, because I live (inaudible) in Gungahlin, because we don't get much services over there and the Woden Community Centre’s in Woden, in the south side.




How do our young people access the program? Where do they have to go?


So services are provided on an outreach basis as well as in offices. There are a range of ways people can refer into the programs.

So they can refer or access the services directly through the organisations. They can contact Flourish or other Woden Community Services, they can be referred by their GP, by their family members, by other health services. They can also call through to our centralised intake for all of our stepped care mental health services in the ACT.

So there's a whole range of ways that people can access support.




Just a question for Minister Hunt. You spoke about this being a way for people to seek help who aren’t eligible for the NDIS. Why has there been, I guess, a delay or a gap between establishing this and the NDIS rollout?


No that's- I understand the question, but that respectfully isn't accurate.

This was to make sure that that gap didn't emerge and so we have had a- it’s a successive program to services that had been scheduled to go into the NDIS and so it was tailored to arrive at the time that some of those services went into the NDIS.

So it's been very carefully put together but I recognise, when I came in, that there was the potential for that gap to occur. But through this program, we’ve been able to make sure that there isn't the gap. Fair question. Thank you very much.

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