2024-2025 Pre-Budget Submission
Australia needs urgent mental health reform.
The rate of young people experiencing mental health conditions has increased dramatically, from 25% in 2007 to 40% in 2021. Mental health issues are the most common reason people see a GP, and the health issue that is concerning GPs the most looking to the future.
Investment in mental health does not match this emergency. Despite overall increases, mental health expenditure has decreased as a proportion of total health expenditure (8% in 2019-20 to 7% in 2020-21), and is still well below the equivalent 13% burden of disease. The Productivity Commission recommended governments invest an extra $1.2 billion per year nationally, to deliver priority mental health system reforms.
The current cost of living crisis is also putting further strain on peoples’ mental health. Mental Health Australia’s 2023 Report to the Nation found 1 in 2 people in Australia say rising cost of living is having a big impact on their mental health, and 1 in 5 say cost is a barrier to accessing mental health support. Rising out-of-pocket health care fees are also increasing barriers to mental health support, and exacerbating health inequalities. Research shows out-of-pocket costs for mental health care have risen much faster than government expenditure on mental health care.
The Australian Government has made progress in some key areas of mental health reform in 2023, with welcome investments to establish new lived experience and family, carer and kin peak bodies; continue rollout of Head to Health Centres and Kids Hubs; progress mental health workforce development; improve access to GP and allied health mental health support through the Strengthening Medicare initiative; and continue core national digital mental health services.
The Government must now build on this work, and partner with the mental health sector, and people with lived experience, and their family, carers and supporters, to fundamentally reform the mental health system, and improve Australia’s mental health. Immediate imperatives include responding to the Better Access evaluation and NDIS Review, implementing the National Mental Health Workforce Strategy, and embedding mental health into the National Health Reform Agreement.
Ultimately, we need to design and deliver on our shared vision for a mental health system that both prevents mental health conditions, and is available to support everyone in Australia when we need it, regardless of our income or where we live. We need committed and long-term reform, backed by long-term funding. This will ensure that the community can access support, and the sector can invest in initiatives to improve the efficiency and impact of programs and services, with a continual focus on innovation. This investment will provide vast returns in quality-of-life improvements for people across Australia, as well as cost savings and boosts to economic productivity.
Given the strong relationship between mental health and other key priorities of the Albanese Government, including responding to cost of living pressures and housing security, it is critical that a whole-of-government approach is adopted to improve mental health. Investments in mental health will also help to enable the Albanese Government to deliver on the Measuring What Matters Framework, so that we are progressing towards a more healthy, secure, sustainable, cohesive and prosperous Australia.
It’s time to put mental health reform on the agenda.
The following recommendations and priorities are informed by consultations with Mental Health Australia members and stakeholders, unimplemented recommendations of the Productivity Commission inquiry into mental health, recommendations from the Evaluation of Better Access, and priority areas of the Mental Health Reform Advisory Committee.