CEO Update - Merry Christmas and a happy and safe New Year

Lachlan Searle

Christmas is a time to reflect. At the end of what seems to have been a very long year, I am proud of many of Mental Health Australia’s achievements. I continue to believe our very small but very hard working team punches well above its weight in the national debate, and a brief look at some of those achievements tells the story of 2017.

• At our Parliamentary Advocacy Day in March, Minister Hunt declared that the problem of hundreds of thousands people with psychosocial disability being ineligible for the NDIS was ‘my problem, and I’m going to fix it’. This was the first time a Health Minister made any such commitment.
• We have continued our relationship with the National Mental Health Consumer and Carer Forum and National Register, helping to support the voices of consumers and carers as they advocate independently for reform in mental health.
• The Inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS into psychosocial disability adopted many of Mental Health Australia’s recommendations, including a recommendation to review the NDIS Act, following our four submissions and substantial lobbying.
• The Productivity Commission recommended a standalone gateway for psychosocial disability, something Mental Health Australia had strongly advocated for in its submission to the PC.
• We anticipate that the Royal Commission on Financial Services will include in its final Terms of Reference the opportunity to examine discrimination by insurance companies against people with mental illness. This is something Mental Health Australia has been drawing attention to for more than a decade.
• We have joined forces with many of our members to support campaigns and advocacy across the year, promoting unity and collaboration in a sector that works too hard with too few resources.
• Several new funded projects coming online which will help us to advance our advocacy in psychosocial support, implementation of the NDIS.

But any honest Christmas reflection must also recognise that we still have so much more to do.

• People living with mental illness continue to die much earlier than the rest of the population.
• Seven or eight Australians die by suicide every day.
• People seeking mental health support frequently have no real options, and are too often presented with an ad hoc array of services with little connection to each other, and with dubious efficacy.
• As the media has shown us NSW, SA, NT, QLD and in other places, services remain so bad in some cases that they do harm to those seeking care.
• People living with mental illness face routine discrimination in employment, in financial services, even in popular culture.
• We under invest in mental health, and we continue to direct the investment we do make poorly.
• We make much of consumer and carer “co-design” as a pathway to build the systems of the future, but we fail to invest in the structure, processes and capacity that consumers and carers need to support their role in co-design.

All of this could make us pessimistic. All of this could wear us down. All of this could make us turn on each other in frustration and anger. Or, all of this could serve to unite us, and to spur us on to more and better in the year ahead.

We all have different angels on reform. We all have different roles, different capabilities, different expertise, different resources, and different opportunities for influence.

But if we are united, our efforts are multiplied.

So let’s go to our Christmas break (if that is what we are having) and let’s refresh and regroup. Let’s return to 2018 with renewed energy and renewed commitment to do better, together, in the year ahead.

Warm regards.

Frank Quinlan
Chief Executive Officer

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