Date published: 
10 October 2019
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Nearly half the Australian population will have a mental health condition in their lifetime and in any one year, about a million adult suffer depression.

Today marks World Mental Health Day. Greg Hunt is the Federal Health Minister and he joins us. Welcome back to Breakfast.

GREG HUNT:

Good morning, Cathy.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Minister, suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44.
We’ve seen a big increase in funding and a growing awareness around mental health. Why does this figure remain so high, so stubbornly high?

GREG HUNT:

Sadly it’s a global challenge. We’ve seen a reduction of 80 lives lost to suicide in the last year, by 80, but it’s still a national tragedy.

And so there are a series of things, firstly it’s related to the broad national challenge of mental health, not all suicides are mental health related but there’s a huge impact here. And in particular we’re still going through this process of de-stigmatisation.

We’ve made enormous progress on people being aware of others and supportive of others over the last two and a half decades. But self-stigma, the sense of guilt or shame which is – it needn’t be there – is, we know, still very prevalent.

And what that means is people are reluctant to seek help. So the message today of all days is its okay, seek help. It can be any one of us that has a mental health challenge.

Four million Australians in any one year, as you said, a million are likely to have depression, two million with anxiety and then other conditions such as eating disorders, bipolar, schizophrenia, these are part of the human condition but we can help and we can support.

And so that first step of seeking help is in many ways the most important step because so much of what happens is people take their lives after suffering in agonised silence.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Now the Morrison Government has set a goal of zero suicides. Is that possible? Is there a danger here of underestimating the complexity of suicide by setting such a goal?

GREG HUNT:

Look, I think that’s a very important question. We thought very, very carefully about this and in the end we said the only acceptable goal as with the toad toll is towards zero.

That doesn’t mean we’ll get there overnight, that’s an honest answer but the reduction in the last year I think is an important first step. But we will just keep going and going.

And there was a very significant focus on youth suicide, half a billion dollars added in the budget and programs through headspace where I was only yesterday expanding the number of headspaces, deepening the support for existing headspaces, building on the Early Youth Psychosis Program all add to it.

But what we particularly want to do is expand resilience programs in schools and in communities so people are aware of the threats and then aware that it’s fine to seek help, that this can be any one of us. As well as building for adults the equivalent of headspace – adult mental health centres.

So over the course of the next decade I’d like to see 100 of these established around the country. And it’s both online, it’s telephone and the physical presence.

And then tracking everybody who wishes to be part of a program with follow-up after they’ve been discharged from hospital. That’s the single biggest group of people, those who have been discharged for suicidality or attempted suicide who are most likely to take their own lives.
We know, the group and individuals.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

And that’s the real concern though about the – and that’s the real concern about the kind of supports that are there once they have been discharged.

Yesterday, Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie spoke to us and she talked about a huge need for mental health services across Australia. Here’s what she said.

JACQUI LAMBIE EXCERPT:

There is not enough mental health facilities out there. There’s not enough councillors, there are not enough psychologists, not enough rehabilitation beds.

You know, you get a lot of feedback on that and I think when you’ve got your boots on the ground a lot, that in itself is – you know, that’s priceless to be able to have that information and know that this is exactly what is going on in society and I’m not just talking about Burnie in Tasmania, it’s right across the nation.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

That’s Tasmanian Senator Jacquie Lambie speaking there. Minister, do you agree with her? I mean are you going to meet her on this?

GREG HUNT:

Well look, I actually do largely agree with what she said and I’m happy to meet any of my colleagues on this and as they’ve sought to meet me, I’ve met across party lines with people such as Pauline Hanson or it could – you know, another Senator.

So as there are requests and invitations, absolutely I meet with colleagues, people – Julian Leeser and Andrew Wallace have been deeply engaged within our party so this is not just bipartisan, it’s across the entire parliament.

The essential point that Jacqui was making is the need for follow up and the need for additional services.

So it’s not just destigmatisation but it’s that process of expanding out, as I said before, to – from zero adult mental health centres which had been the responsibility of the states but we’re going to step in and work on this front, to a hundred; I think that’s extremely important.

And then just as significantly, this follow up after people are being discharged from hospital. This is where we can save lives; it’s where we can make a massive difference.

We’ve started with a program called the Way Back over $30 million being invested but I want to see us providing support for Australian who’s discharged from hospital so as they have the option of being involved with counsellors and people who will follow and work with them as they see fit.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Greg Hunt though, what about up front? Certainly, there are many health – mental health experts who argue that more money should be spent on preventative measures which means that many more people wouldn’t be hospitalised.

There’s a concern that there is a piecemeal approach to prevention initiatives and that extra funding is necessary in this space.

Do you agree that we need sort of discreet funding for preventative measures?

GREG HUNT:

Well, we are actually doing that. But if you think of the overview as prevention, diagnosis, treatment and recovery, the Mental Health 2030 Plan that we are working on – the Vision 2030, is working across all of those four areas and it’s important to invest not just in any one but in all four areas.

And that’s why, for example, with the Prime Minister, one of the first ones he did after the election is we went out to a girls’ school in Western Sydney; we focused with them on training and resilience through the extraordinary group of young people – Batyer.

Batyer is telling the stories of young people who themselves have been through that deep depression or anxiety or had been on a path to suicide or have been in suicide recovery and to see the coping mechanisms they taught; to show the role models of people who've been through the dark days that are in recovery is to see something that's immensely important.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Let's pick up on a few other issues in the health portfolio. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee has recommended a ban on repeat antibiotic prescriptions and this is, of course, to try to overcome this issue around superbug resistance.

Are you supportive of that change?

GREG HUNT:

So it does actually come from a submission that was led by the Chief Medical Officer. So we'll review it shortly but we are generally very predisposed to it.

And the reason why is because around the world, anti-microbial resistance is one of the great threats to the progress of the 20th century which started with penicillin and has expanded out.

What is important though is there would still be the capacity for repeats to be provided but under circumstances where it's absolutely clear that a longer course is required and the AMA, the College of GPs, the medical community have all come together behind this.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

On another matter, Western Australia looks likely to become the second state to legalise voluntary assisted dying. Labor senator for WA Pat Dodson opposes the bill. He says it could prevent Indigenous Australians from seeking care.

The Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt says he's personally opposed to the legislation as well.

Where do you stand on this issue?

GREG HUNT:

I've said previously and on many occasions, I don't support it. But I respect the fact that it is matter to be determined at each individual state level.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Victoria, of course, passed its legislation in June. Queensland's considering legislation. Last year, a private member's bill to overturn a federal law that removed the rights of the ACT and the NT to legislate on euthanasia was narrowly defeated in the Senate.

If we see more states legalising euthanasia, will you visit this?

GREG HUNT:

Well it's again a matter for each of the states.

So I respect the fact that people around Australia will have very different views on this and this is one of those issues that in my view, is most appropriately dealt with at the individual state level and that's.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Unless you’re a territory.

GREG HUNT:

Look, I've set out my (inaudible) in terms of the state (inaudible) and first you asked me I don't believe it's a desirable pathway for the simple reason that it has the risk of sending a message.
Again, this is my personal view but it's also the view of the World Health Organization and the AMA of sending a message that older Australians might be less valued.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Okay.

GREG HUNT:

And that we need to be focusing on palliative care. But I’ll let WA proceed…

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Greg Hunt, I’m sorry.

GREG HUNT:

With its own processes.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Time is against us and the line starting to fade a little bit. But I do want to ask you a question just in terms of what's happening in the Middle East.

GREG HUNT:

Yes.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Yesterday, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said a Turkish offensive in Syria would have major consequences. That offensive is now underway. Is our Government concerned about a potential resurgence of ISIS?

GREG HUNT:

Well, the Foreign Minister has set out her and our big concerns about what's occurring and the Turkish position (inaudible). Marise Payne has said, I think she set it out very clearly, we have deep and profound concerns.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

Minister, thank you for your time today.

GREG HUNT:

Thanks, Cathy.

CATHY VAN EXTEL:

That's the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. And if you or anyone you know needs help in relation to some of the things that we've been talking about in that interview you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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