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31 Oct 2019

The rate of mental health presentations at hospital emergency departments has risen by 70 per cent over the past 15 years; mental health and suicide costs Australia $180 billion a year; and mental health services are failing to meet community expectations.

These are some of the findings in the Productivity Commission’s draft report into mental health.

A generational shift is needed, it states.

“In any year, approximately one in five Australians experiences mental ill-health. While most people manage their health themselves, many who do seek treatment are not receiving the level of care necessary,” Productivity Commissioner Stephen King says in the report.

“As a result, too many people suffer additional preventable physical and mental distress, relationship breakdown, stigma, and loss of life satisfaction and opportunities.

“The treatment of mental illness has been tacked on to a health system that has been largely designed around the characteristics of physical illness.”

The report states that the cost to the Australian economy of mental ill-health and suicide is, conservatively, up to $51 billion a year, with an additional $130 billion cost associated with diminished health and reduced life expectancy for those living with mental illness.

That totals up to about $180 billion a year – or $500 million a day – as the true cost to the economy.

AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said the figure did not surprise him.

“We’ve been saying for many, many years now that the cost of mental illness has been vastly underestimated,” Dr Bartone told Sky News.

“You’ve got to add in all the factors, not just actually the cost of providing the care, but the lost productivity to GDP in terms of time off through illness, out of the workplace, and the contributing impact on the family and on the community.

“We need to ensure that we’ve got a proper mental health architecture in our system to deal with that complexity, that burden of illness, because otherwise we’re just not doing the right things by our patients, by community, and by the Australians as a whole.”

In its recommendations, the Productivity Commission calls for sweeping reforms, but notes that some of the changes have already been flagged and rejected. Some recommendations will need to be implemented in stages.

“Substantial reform of Australia’s mental health system is needed and there is no quick fix,” the report states.

Among the long list of recommendations is one that schools should employ mental health and wellbeing counsellors for children.

Other recommendations include promoting best-practice in initial assessment and referral stages of treatment; linking headspace centre funding to targets around care and following the stepped care model; amending MBS regulations for referrals so patients can use alternatives; encouraging more group psychological therapy; expanding online treatment options; better planning in regional areas for dedicated mental health services and hospital beds; and improving alternatives to EDs such as clinician-led after hours services and mobile crisis services.


The full report can be found at:


Published: 31 Oct 2019