I have become even more fond of the thesaurus widget in my word processing program this week. You know, the one that helps you refine what you really mean, or suggests a different word when you find you’re being repetitive.
‘Saddened’, ‘disheartened’ and ‘displeased’ come up as options for ‘disappointed’ as I attempt to explain how I feel about the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement published a few days ago.
Considering the emphasis that Mental Health Australia has placed on the National Agreement as being the platform for transformational mental health reform, it has fundamentally failed to address almost all of the advice provided by the mental health sector in the Advice to Governments on the Proposed National Mental Health Agreement paper.
But it’s perhaps unsurprising.
The lack of external engagement and consultation in the Agreement’s development means it was probably always doomed. What we have in its current form is insular structures and processes that shield governments from much needed commitments and accountability.
The missed opportunity to embed lived experience across it reflects a lack of government commitment to consumer and carer leadership in the mental health sector.
The lack of detail on deliverables during the course of the Agreement, the absence of any implementation framework such as Vision 2030 or a 6th National Mental Health Plan and no external oversight will potentially translate into continued tick the box service enhancements rather than the mental health reform that Mental Health Australia has been strongly advocating over the past three years.
We end here a long journey that began in November 2018 and involved the highest levels of engagement reported by Commissioners for any project, producing the Productivity Commission Report into Mental Health in June 2020 and released later that year. Energy for reform was high and the National Agreement was promised by the Prime Minister. Through the development of the Advice to Governments process, Mental Health Australia members provided guidance for governments to consider and as you will see in this summary much of this advice was not heeded.
So, where does that leave us?
Firstly the Agreement does have some positive aspects and shared principles to which we can all aspire and which are very welcome. If governments can activate and implement these there will be incremental change and that can only be good.
Secondly (and fortunately) innovation, consumer and carer based design and leadership, integration for outcomes, evidenced-based decision making and accountability are alive and well in the service system!
The very great privilege in my role is the opportunity to hear about and witness such great work.
This week I have been in Cowra, Dubbo and Orange witnessing young people leading the development of headspace sites, meeting community leaders working hard for better outcomes for their constituents, and hearing from skilful providers finding ways to meet community needs and delivering solutions.
On my drive home, I wondered if the inspiring people I met will be making use of the same synonym suggestions in their thesaurus when they realise this Agreement doesn’t make their jobs any easier.
That said, I also arrived on some hope (noun: həʊp/synonym… optimism, anticipation, faith) that together we will find a way as a collection of providers, consumers, carers and supporters to create the change and reform we are looking for, ourselves.
Dr Leanne Beagley
CEO, Mental Health Australia