Then governments started to build the institutions again and the acute beds as a reactive thing. Three per cent of the population has serious mental illness. State services currently cannot even fund one-third of the need in that group. So this is why this reform – the Federal Government financing mental health care – is absolutely vital. The idea of mainstreaming mental health care into general hospitals and primary care was a nice idea to get rid of stigma, but the system wasn’t designed or engineered in a good way. Young people have the lowest access to care: only 13 per cent of young men with mental health problems get any access to any kind of mental health care. It’s no wonder the suicide rate is appalling. This is a $30 billion issue: cost effectiveness, value for money, extension of life, quality of life, productivity, returning people to work, paying tax.

The more you scale up the system of care, the more the cost effectiveness goes up by a factor of 10. If you have a small investment in youth mental health, it’s not that cost-effective. But if you roll it out in high coverage, you will get a major return on investment from all aspects of government. Damian Hill: How can the government help? What the funds and insurers are trying to do is use their distribution: industry funds cover about 8 or 9 million Australians. The average Australian has about three superannuation funds. We did some research* with SuperFriend: is a super fund a natural place for a young person to get this advice, and the answer came back, not surprisingly, no. (*Editor’s note: IFF & AIST Member Insurance Research, Sweeney Research April 2008) But the research also showed we were a trusted financial institution, one of the most trusted institutions out there generally, compared to banks. (Super funds were in first place, in contrast to banks in 9th place.) If we did get the message out there on our web sites’ referral services, then that trust would continue over to that education material. We put communications about SuperFriend in all our product disclosures, annual reports, and case studies.

We try to get it out to employers as well: they’re key to this and they will have a greater OH&S obligation in the future in regard to mental health. It’s probably not recognised as yet and may not be mandated as yet, but it’s coming. PatMcGorry: Mental Health First Aid is a program 100,000 people have been trained in. It gives lay people first aid skills in mental health. You’re not expected to be a clinician or a therapist, but it empowers ordinary people, especially people in the front line – hairdressers or police or teachers or whatever – basic skills when they come across distressed people. MarkWoodward: It troubles me that it’s not being addressed. We’ve heard examples, lots and lots of examples of the various ways in which this is material and relevant, and yet four weeks ago I knew nothing about this. I wonder how many people like me, who aren’t in the bowels of this topic, know literally nothing about it. The government typically responds to the electorate: if the electorate doesn’t understand the need for it, then they’re not shouting for it.

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