The Age, a staunch campaigner for better treatment for people with mental illness, has backed the royal commission – with the caveat it must not be allowed to delay any further the changes that experts, lawmakers and users of the system already know are needed.
As much as 90 per cent of the public health budget goes to physical ailments, yet a survey last year found two out of three GPs cited psychological issues as the most common complaint they dealt with. GPs are struggling to find sufficient mental health services to which they can refer people in need.
It can be a crushing need, as the royal commission, chaired by former Justice Department chief Penny Armytage, heard yesterday from former AFL premiership player Wayne Schwass, who experienced deep depression. He felt prevented by stigma from seeking help until he’d been unwell, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, for many years. His account of the insidious nature of expectations and stigma was backed by former federal minister Andrew Robb, who 10 years ago publicly declared he was taking leave to treat the depression he had been experiencing for decades.
Thanks to the courage of these people and so many others in recent years, the stigma is lifting and people are coming to understand that mental ill-health is simply another form of treatable illness. In any one year, about 1 million Australian adults have depression, and more than 2 million have anxiety.
Commissioner Armytage rightly stressed rising rates of mental illness in young people, and the risk of these people self-harming and/or dying by suicide. LGBTQ young people are particularly at risk, as they experience more bullying and far less support and acceptance than other students, although that appears to be finally starting to change as community awareness of the normalcy of mental illness grows. In her opening remarks, Ms Armytage made a statement that can help further awareness and change: “Mental health conditions are more prevalent in our community than all cancers combined.”