Productivity Commission highlights vital need for early intervention and prevention in mental health

The Productivity Commission’s interim report on its inquiry into mental health has been broadly welcomed by Australia’s leading youth mental health organisations headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation; and Orygen.

The Commission’s interim report reveals that mental illness costs Australia $180 billion every year, while providing a sophisticated and timely analysis of weakness and neglect in the mental health system. Crucially, it acknowledges that in 75% of cases mental ill-health first appears before the age of 25, making early intervention and a focus on children and young people imperative. Indeed, the majority of mental illness that casts a shadow over the productive decades of adult life emerge between the ages of 12 and 25.

Fortunately, Australia is well positioned to respond to the challenges in youth mental health as a result of the development of headspace and early psychosis programs over recent years, which have been built on strong bipartisan support by successive governments. Australians can be proud of a youth mental health model that has been picked up by many other countries.

Orygen and headspace said a number of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations would support help-seeking for young people, including:

  • community-based services operating for extended hours, providing more outreach and mobile home treatment services for individuals experiencing mental ill-health as alternatives to emergency departments;
  • progressive roll out of the Individual Placement and Support program to support people with mental ill-health engage in work and study;
  • strengthening the youth peer workforce; and
  • assertive follow up support provided post-discharge after a suicide attempt.

Professor Patrick McGorry, Executive Director of Orygen, said the majority of the interim report’s recommendations were warmly welcomed.

“Australia has led the world in creating a platform of care that is trusted by young people and communities, and has improved access and functional outcomes – which is a key contributor to Australia’s productivity,” Professor McGorry said. “We should be safeguarding and building on the national network of early intervention services provided through headspace, including early psychosis services. We must make sure all supports for young people are deepened and expanded.” 

The headspace Board Chair, Lisa Paul, said headspace had supported more than half a million young Australians, helping them to get things back on track.

“We cannot underestimate the impact headspace has had on the lives of young people and their ability to engage in school, work and life – these benefits have a positive flow on effect to the young person’s family, friends and local community,” Ms Paul said. 

  • Last year, headspace supported over 130,000 young people to get back on track by providing more than 500,000 individual services
  • More than 62% of young people get better[1] with headspace and this increases to 68% if they attend 5 or 6 sessions
  • Last year, 15,000 young people who visited a headspace centre experienced suicidal thoughts or behaviour
  • Young people report high levels of satisfaction with services: eheadspace (85%), headspace centres (87%) and headspace Early Psychosis (94%) 
  • A recent follow up study showed young people’s distress levels and functional recovery[2] improved while using headspace and continued to improve more than a year on
  • 77% of young Australians recognise headspace – they know headspace is there for them. 

“The Productivity Commission has a real opportunity to strengthen the impact headspace has on the lives of young people,” Ms Paul said. “headspace looks forward to supporting the Commission to engage with the diversity of young people who engage with headspace services to help inform their final report. It is crucial we get things right for young people and their families and friends in the prevention and treatment of mental health issues.”

Professor McGorry said the greatest challenge to reducing the impact of mental ill-health on Australia’s population was the lack of integrated and coordinated mental health supports, both within mental health services and across systems, particularly for young people with additional complexities. “There are structural, governance and funding barriers that mean millions of Australians are receiving patchy support for their mental ill-health, or no support at all,” Professor McGorry said.

“The interim report is a very promising start to delivering meaningful reform of Australia’s mental health system. We appreciate the openness of the Commission to receiving feedback. We look forward to working with the Commission to produce a final version that delivers the major reform and investment that young people desperately need - building on progress to date.”

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[1] Getting better includes a decrease in psychological distress and an increase in social and vocational functioning

[2] Ability to attend school or work and engage in life and their community