We’re letting people down on mental health, state government concedes
The royal commission has already heard shocking stories of mistreatment and mismanagement, with one leading expert witness telling it the state’s system has collapsed and needs a complete overhaul.
Now Mental Health Minister Martin Foley says he wants a “stepped care” model, with a heavy focus on early intervention, treating mental illnesses before they spiral out of control.
Mr Foley says a lack of co-ordination across the sprawling health bureaucracy is preventing sick people getting the care they need before their mental illnesses become acute and they need to be admitted to hospital.
“There is an opportunity to build a new system that assists Victorians to move easily between services without having to re-tell their story, over and over,” the submission reads.
“This new system would have an enhanced focus on early intervention and lower-intensity services that means more people can be supported sooner, before their illness escalates.”
The stepped care approach is designed to use the education, justice and broader health and social services systems to identify people who are struggling.
The government says GPs and emergency rooms, which are sparse or non-existent outside the cities and towns, and police are too often the first services encountered by a person needing help and are not always equipped to deal with the situation.
Once a problem is identified, the stepped care model is designed to match the patient with the level of treatment they need, which can then be escalated or scaled down as the individual’s illness intensifies or gets better.
But clear and accurate early assessment is critical to the success of the approach, Mr Foley says, with people directed to the right services the first time around.
The government says it is directly spending more than $2 billion on mental health and substance abuse programs this year on top of significant Commonwealth spending through Medicare, the PBS and other services.
But demand for mental health services is growing on the back of the state’s ballooning population, a greater awareness of mental health issues and changing patterns of drug use.
The “unprecedented pressure” on the system saw nearly 580,000 Victorians seeking mental health-related services through a GP in the 2017-2018 financial year, according to the government’s submission.
Mr Foley acknowledges the task of reform is huge, with sweeping changes needed to workforce management, governance, research, data and information handling as well as the physical infrastructure of the state’s mental health system.
Mr Foley and acting Premier Lisa Neville will publish their submission to the commission on Tuesday, and committed on Monday to implementing all the recommendations made by the royal commission “to ensure Victorians get the care that they deserve”.
“Every year, one in five Victorians experience mental illness,” Mr Foley said.
“This royal commission is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fix our broken system and ultimately save lives.”
“The stepped-care model is about building better connections between mental health services so people don’t fall through the cracks, like too many do right now.”
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au
Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age