One of the region's leading suicide prevention and mental health awareness organisations has welcomed the draft report from the Federal Government's productivity commission into mental health.
Lifeline Mid Coast CEO Catherine Vaara believes the commission is a step in the right direction for opening up meaningful conversation around mental illness and suicide.
"I think part of reducing the stigma around mental health and suicide is to really open it up, to have no more secrets or mystery, and just to be able to talk about it, because if we're not talking about it, then things aren't ever going to get done," she said.
"If we're not talking about it the people that are experiencing mental illness or suicide ideation have nowhere to take it."
Everybody in their lifetime will go through a period of mental distress.Catherine Vaara, Lifeline Mid Coast CEO
A contributor to the commission herself through Lifeline Australia's submission, Ms Vaara said it was positive to see some of the recommendations that came out in the report aligned with initiatives Lifeline Mid Coast was already running in the region.
"One of the recommendations was universal access to aftercare for people who are experiencing mental illness," she said.
"We know that the most important time for supporting people who are leaving the mental health ward, and particularly those who have attempted suicide, is to have a support system within that 48 hours, because they're more likely to die within that 48 hours after release than any other time.
"So we've established a program called 'Hospital to Recovery' where Lifeline Mid Coast has employed a peer worker that is at the hospital and at our centre and the idea is to develop relationships with people in mental health wards before release to help them on their personal journey, to help them articulate what they need in their journey to recovery, and how we can help them establish those specific personalised needs."
Ms Vaara believed it was important for organisations in regional Australia like Lifeline to have well-researched programs in place that demonstrated to the government that money would be well spent in their areas.
Otherwise they risked missing out on much-needed funding.
With the Mid North Coast registering higher than average rates of mental illness and higher than average rates of anti-psychotic drug use, Ms Vaara believed it was vital that organisations in the area received the financial support they needed to affect positive change.
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With the final report from the productivity commission expected to be handed to the Australian Government by May 2020, Ms Vaara said she was unsure when the government would start acting on the recommendations, but hoped the attention that had been generated by the enquiry would prompt them to respond appropriately.
"What the commission does is put the spotlight on it and says 'What are you going to do about it?'" she said.
However, she believed the onus on tackling the challenges presented by mental illness and suicide should not rest solely with the State and Federal governments.
"It's not just the responsibility of the governments," she said.
"I think it's the responsibility of the communities involved to say let's start working together.
"And that's what the commission was also saying, we need to have a more holistic, collaborative approach."
The productivity commission into mental health is a nationwide enquiry into the effects mental health has on on people's ability to participate in and prosper in the community and workplace, and the effects it has more generally on our economy and productivity.
Some of the more concerning statistics the enquiry uncovered included:
- one in two Australians will become mentally ill in their lifetime
- the economic effects of mental health and suicide cost Australia up to $51 billion per year
- more people now die from suicide than road accidents.
To see more of the findings from the draft report, click here.
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