Mr Hunt, who will speak at the National Press Club on Wednesday, said while Australians had almost totally removed the stigma of depression and anxiety as a social conversation, too many Australians were still too hesitant about giving themselves “a leave pass”.
He told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age his aim was to create a mental health system which “rivals and parallels” Australia’s physical health system.
He said the high rate of suicide, particularly among young people, was “a national tragedy” and while mental health issues, such as anxiety and eating disorders, were now more reported, they were also more prevalent than ever before.
“We know that one in four people within the ages of 15 and 24, will suffer from anxiety, eating disorders or depression and in any one year suicide can be the number one killer,” Mr Hunt said.
“We are now very good as a country to not judge others but still poor at giving ourselves a leave pass. Too many people are reluctant to seek that help early.”
Citing new research from Beyond Blue’s Answering the call survey of 21,014 serving and former police and emergency services employees and volunteers, he said it had become clear self-stigmatisation was the “missing piece of the puzzle” in mental health treatment.
The survey found just 1 per cent of people believed that mental health conditions were the fault of the individual and only 2 per cent believed that mental health conditions were a burden on others.
But Mr Hunt said the startling revelation was that 31 per cent felt ashamed or a burden because of their own mental health issues and 61 per cent avoided telling others.
“That’s reflective of what I’m encountering,” he said. “That is why building resilience and early intervention at the early ages, starting in upper primary – but particularly middle secondary and later secondary – can make all the difference.”
During the five-year period from 2013, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found the average number of suicide deaths a year was 2918, with 3128 deaths by suicide in 2017.
Mr Hunt said helping young Australians identify and feeling comfortable to tell a sibling, friend, teacher, coach or parent about their anxiety or depression was crucial to helping solve the issue.
“There continues to be barriers to people seeking help… we need a national system which works through prevention, early treatment in mild stages and in the the severe or acute stages, and recovery,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made reducing the suicide rate a key focus of his re-elected government and announced in June an extra $2.8 million to expand mental health services to school students amid calls for stronger action by all governments to fix a “mess” in the health system.
Mr Hunt said it was a “powerful message” that both Mr Morrison and former prime minister Julia Gillard, as chair of Beyond Blue, had made youth mental health and suicide their “number one social cause”.
Ms Gillard last month described suicide is “one of the greatest public health challenges of our time” and called for mental health advocates to stop “squabbling” over funding and unite to tackle Australia’s rising suicide rate.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 , Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra