CEO Update - What are we doing on Monday to achieve our vision for mental health?

Lachlan Searle

At the Mental Health Australia Members Policy Forum in Canberra this week, our Chair Jennifer Westacott challenged the sector to unite behind a shared vision, and find practical, incremental ways to achieve that vision.

Put succinctly and simply, Jennifer raised the question, ‘what are we doing on Monday to achieve our vision for mental health in Australia?’

Next Monday, and next week, Mental Health Australia is going to continue to argue that issue of mental health and insurance discrimination will be properly addressed by the newly announced Banking Royal Commission.

This opportunity comes at the end of a long road, and Mental Health Australia, along with other organisations, have advocated tirelessly for many years now to have the discrimination present in the insurance industry eliminated.

Earlier in the year we saw a good, but small step in this area with travel insurance agencies such as Cover-More Australia and QBE Insurance removing exclusions in their policies and amending clauses to properly protect people experiencing mental illness.

The Banking Royal Commission provides us with a much bigger opportunity. An opportunity to right wrongs that have been prevalent for decades. An opportunity to identify and ultimately end discrimination.

If stigma is a physical mark of disgrace, a stain, or a blemish, then discrimination is the practice of acting on that stigma. Of treating someone less favourably. Providing them with less opportunity. Making a choice between perceived disadvantages. Judging them.

Stigma is the sum total of a series of individual acts and omissions. And so, it’s really only when we actually name and tackle those individual acts, and omissions that we get closer to the heart of what stigma, or discrimination really is.

People living with mental health issues should have access to the same financial services and insurances that the rest of the population have access to. People seeking support for mental health issues should not have to ask themselves whether reaching out for help will affect their chances of subsequently receiving insurance.

The insurance industry has discriminated against people living with mental health issues for decades. We know practices have been discriminatory and people have been treated unfairly. And we know this because strong, inspirational people like Ella Ingram have taken on big insurers, challenged misconceptions and discriminatory policies, won, and changed the way forward.

Speaking on ABC AM today The Nationals Mr Llew O’Brien MP has already outlined his three priorities for the terms of reference for the Banking Royal Commission, and calling for discrimination by insurance companies against people with mental ill health to be looked at is one of them.

Mental Health Australia, beyondblue, and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre have been arguing this issue for some time, and we will continue to do so until we see it surface in the terms of reference for Banking Royal Commission.

A practical step towards our own vision of mental healthy people, and mentally health communities.

That’s what we’ll be doing on Monday. What will you be doing?

Warm regards.

Frank Quinlan
Chief Executive Officer

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