Shake-up plea for youth mental health
The suffering of mentally ill young people could be
greatly reduced if Victoria complemented federal funding for a national
project with reforms of the state system, it has been claimed.
Leading mental health advocate Patrick McGorry, of the
Melbourne University psychiatry department, said the State Government
had a rare chance to make a big difference for the most vulnerable
group, those aged 12 to 25.
Professor McGorry will soon present the Government
with a plan he believes could improve recovery and prevent chronic
problems developing in the young.
He said the changes could be brought about for a
one-off capital cost of about $50 million and an extra $50 million a
year in recurrent expenditure.
Victoria could assume national leadership of mental
health reform, he suggested, by taking the plan to February's Council of
Australian Governments meeting.
Prime Minister John Howard has put mental health on
the agenda for the meeting, and is expected to detail further funding
Professor McGorry is the executive director of Orygen
Youth Health, the innovative Parkville-based clinical research and care
organisation that has just won $54 million in federal funding to set up
a national youth mental health foundation.
The foundation is intended to integrate primary health
care, mental health services and drug and alcohol services under one
"youth-friendly" umbrella for people aged 12 to 25 in 30 to 40
metropolitan and regional centres around Australia. To achieve the best
results, Professor McGorry said, it needed to be complemented by the
expansion of the adolescent component of the state system's child and
adolescent mental health services.
"Currently these services are thinly resourced, tied
to child-focused structures, and (they) tragically cease at 18 years,
the very point they are most needed," he said.
"A small proportion only of young people over 18 gain
access to adult services, which are harsh environments and relatively
ineffective in engaging and treating young people."
Professor McGorry's plan comes after a series of
reports from the Mental Health Council of Australia and the Federal
Government, as well as a full Senate inquiry into mental health last
year, exposed the unacceptable state of Australia's mental health
He said Australia underspent on mental health in
contrast to other OECD countries (6 per cent of the health budget
compared with 11 per cent in New Zealand, 12 per cent in Britain and 15
per cent in Western Europe).
Studies showed that mental health was responsible for
27 per cent of non-fatal diseases, yet expenditure did not match this,
and 60 per cent of people with mental disorders received no treatment.
Professor McGorry said mental health funding should be
aimed at "best buys" rather than focused on the most severe cases — an
approach that has typified adult public mental health services — and he
saw youth mental health as the "best buy".
For instance, he said:
¦Adolescence and young adulthood was the peak period
for the onset of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders,
substance abuse disorders and psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia.
More than 75 per cent of all serious mental health problems started
before the age of 25.
¦Recent Australian surveys of mental health and
wellbeing have found that 14 per cent of young people aged 12 to 17 and
about 27 per cent of people aged 18 to 24 had a mental disorder in any
¦Mental disorders and related substance abuse
disorders accounted for 60 per cent of non-fatal diseases among people
aged 15 to 24 and were therefore the single most important health issue
affecting young people.
¦Only one out of four young people with mental health
problems received professional help. Even among young people with the
most severe mental health problems, only 50 per cent received such help.
January 8, 2006