I think mental health of Australians is one of our biggest challenges.
I spoke yesterday and again I mentioned it this morning – the mental health of our returned veterans.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a really huge issue, and I’ll continue to prosecute that case as we go through the year. But the federal government, I think, is very, very aware of just how much we need to be looking at the fragile mental health of younger Australians.
I note this week that the Health Minister Greg Hunt put another $47 million funding into a youth mental health organisation – headspace.
It’s a significant amount of money; I was keen to find out how it’s going to be used. The minister’s on the line.
Happy New Year, thanks for joining us.
And to you, Steve. Good morning.
In all of the reports on this it was reported that you feel personally strongly about this. Why?
Look, it is immensely important and one, as a local MP, all the time you meet families and individuals that are affected by mental health challenges; and two, in my own right, growing up we had a mental health challenge in our family.
I think it’s well reported now, my mother had bipolar disorder, our situation was not as bad as some families but more challenging than others and it was something which, like most Australian males, I buried it deep down and didn’t talk about it for a long, long while.
And now that I’m in the role and have the chance to do something, it’s an area where I’m going to try to make a real difference.
Modern pressures on young people – it would seem to me, Minister – mean that the incidence of anxiety, of trying to keep up, to be on top of your social media and to prove to others you’re as good as them, has created another level of problem. Hasn’t it?
I think that’s absolutely right. You have two things occurring; one, is better diagnosis and a more honest acknowledgement of mental health challenges.
So, there was an underlying rate that was there, that wasn’t being acknowledged, often hidden behind drugs or alcohol.
But two, talking with Professor Pat McGorry and others, their view and the evidence is that there’s also an actual increase in the rate of mental health challenges, particularly anxiety and depression but also eating disorders where the incidence of eating disorders has grown quite dramatically over the last 50 years – and this is a combination of media, of images and now of social media, all coming together.
One in the stats – I don’t lie – one in four young Australians aged 16 to 24 experience a mental health condition each year. I imagine that those mental health conditions can range from relatively minor to very serious.
That’s absolutely right. So, we have about 550,000 young Australians – or one in four in that aged group that you’ve talked about, 16 to 24 – that have some form of mental health challenge.
And it could be early stage anxiety or depression, it could be more advanced, it could be youth psychosis or eating disorders or, sadly, suicidiality, where people are thinking about suicide or worse, of course, take action, and whether it’s completed suicide or they are simply very badly damaged or injured, it’s a catastrophic outcome.
So, what we’re doing is really focusing on youth mental health.
We have done a number of things; extended the youth psychosis funding for headspace, which is for the severe conditions, but also put in place, this week, an extra $47 million for headspace, really focused on a youth ambassadors program to have leading young people.
And there are a couple of examples, such as this brilliant football coach Beau Vernon from Victoria, two premierships, two different teams, two years, he’s a quadriplegic from a footy accident and he had his own challenges, just an inspiring speaker, and he’ll be supported to go around Victoria and work with communities.
People such as Niharika Hiremath, a young Indian woman who’s an amazing speaker but she battled anxiety and depression, she’ll go around Australia talking with young people, saying I can get through this, you can get through this, it can happen to any of us.
And then 45 of the $47 million is for expanded headspace services and research.
As federal Health Minister, you’re mindful of the fact that we need to provide services everywhere. How difficult is it for those listening to us in regional and rural Australia to actually access the help that they need?
Well, fortunately one of the things we have is the online and phone capacity. So, we’re expanding the actual number of headspace sites.
And so, taking a lot of those out into regional and rural areas such as Grafton, for example, where I visited a little while ago with Pat McGorry and there was tragically a suicide cluster and- but what did the young people want? They wanted a headspace.
And so, we’re expanding the headspace but then you have programs such as Head to Health or eheadspace; two online programs where, you know, it’s 3am, it’s the dark of the night, you have a young person who’s having a crisis, they can go online, they can know that they’re not alone.
Expanding services for beyondblue and Lifeline, so at any time people can make that phone call, they can get online and get themselves through the night and get to the help.
That’s a story that I imagine so many of your listeners will be familiar with, that there’s this dark spot, a dark moment, and we have to get people through that and then get them on the road to recovery.
So, the message is it can happen to anybody, please reach out and there are services that are there right now to help you recover, to help you get through it.
Good on you. It’s a very important issue. Thanks for joining us this morning.