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No more reports: we must fix mental health crisis now


The state’s mental health system was failing before the pandemic and it’s time political parties committed to policy and investment to rebuild, argues Geoff Harris.

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Friday the 13th is superstitious and ominous, if you believe in that kind of thing.

I don’t necessarily believe that, but on Friday 13 October 2017 we predicted ominous events – and told you about it in this very publication.

On that day, I wrote: “Over the past three years we have lost more than $10 million in funding – and that has not been replaced.

“The services that were cut were not just general mental health services but very specific ones that had proved to be highly effective.”

The NDIS rollout had begun and there were plans to cut mental health funding even more. We pointed out that this was bad policy as NDIS, even fully implemented, was only ever designed for a relatively small cohort of people and there were already far more people needing support than we had places for.

We pointed out the evidence that providing community support reduces reliance on emergency care. We said back then we were standing on a cliff face and if we don’t invest in preventative mental health support we were going to fall off.

We’ve seen some of the $10m replaced and the cuts were less than was originally proposed. But despite this, it is fair to say we have now fallen off that cliff.

Sure a lot has happened since 2017 including a pandemic and that has increased demand on our systems. But has our news cycle become so consumed by COVID that we have forgotten there was a problem before it?

COVID is having an impact on people needing mental health support, mostly around issues of anxiety and suicidal ideation. Yet COVID didn’t break the system; it was already collapsing. InDaily highlighted a fractured system back in 2017, so it was not just our Friday the 13th prediction.

With some perspective over the stories we hear today, we need to remember that solutions are still possible.

The Urgent Mental Health Care Centre has been a welcome addition with over 1000 people using it for support since its opening in March. Their responses have been positive and we hear the Ambulance service is appreciative of it too. Investment by the SA Government will see it extending its hours to 24/7, which is welcomed.

With a proposed Mental Health Crisis Stabilisation Centre in the north as part of the recent State Budget, we can be hopeful more is planned. The South Australian Mental Health Services Plan has even more solutions and what we need now is smart, targeted investment to go with its full implementation.

We are dealing with a human rights issue where people impacted by mental illness do not get the supports they need to get well, stay well and reduce reliance on emergency care. We shouldn’t need any more reports, commissions or evaluations to tell us this. The stories we hear every day are evidence enough.

As we move towards the 2022 State Election it’s time to not just ask our candidates and parties, what are they doing to fix the problem, but to look at whether their answer really is the right solution.

Geoff Harris is executive director of the Mental Health Coalition of South Australia

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