Australian Social Policy: Mental Health
The prevention of mental disorders and the promotion of mental health has been a major area of focus in Australian social policy for decades. Mental disorders are widespread across Australia just like is the case in other developed nations (Roberts et al., 2018, p.356). Consequently, such illnesses have a considerable impact at economic, social, and personal levels. According to the Australia Bureau of Statistics, one out of five Australians aged between 16 and 85 years suffers from one of the common mental illnesses such as substance abuse disorder, mood disorders, and anxiety once annually (ABS, 2016). The significance of mental health in Australia is illustrated by the immense national investment initiatives and strategies that have been rolled out to improve mental health among Australians (Commonwealth of Australia, 2016). In this paper, the researcher analysis the fifth national mental health and suicide prevention policy as one of the social policies Australia has employed in addressing mental health. The paper presents the background and a brief literature review of the policy as discussed below.
Mental illnesses and mental health challenges are widespread in Australia. Moreover, mental health demands differ across population groups, age, gender, cultural background, and family situation (ABS, 2016). For instance, the rate of mental disorders among the Aboriginals and Torres Islander peoples is higher than in the general population (Roberts et al., 2018, p.358). The rate of mental illnesses among the indigenous is high due to high rates of mental distress and substance abuse. Other stressors responsible for this high rate include social exclusion, racism, socioeconomic disadvantages, discrimination, community and family violence alongside incarceration (Vine & Judd, 2019, p.17). Moreover, the LGBT population experience higher rates of mental illness than the general population due to stigma and discrimination they face when accessing mental health services (ACSQHC, 2014). Finally, the rate of mental illnesses in rural areas is higher than in urban centers due to the shortage of psychologists in rural settlements (Commonwealth of Australia, 2016). It is for this reason that the Australian government decided to formulate a national mental health and suicide policy to address outlined challenges.
The fifth national mental health and suicide policy also referred to as the Fifth Plan, is an important mark in Australian reform journey of addressing mental health which begun in 1992 (Commonwealth of Australia, 2017). The policy includes the statements of rights on mental health and responsibilities of various government agencies (Commonwealth of Australia, 2016). The policy also provides a strategic approach for guiding coordinated government programs reforms for mental health and service delivery in the country (Commonwealth of Australia, 2017). More specifically, the policy aims, vision, and directions offer a platform for developing the territory, state, and national mental health plans for the Australians.
The Fifth Plan establishes a national policy approach for coordinated government efforts from 2017 to 2022 across 8 major priority area as listed below (Commonwealth of Australia, 2017): 1) to achieve a unified regional service planning and delivery; 2) efficient suicide mitigation; 3) coordinated therapy and support for persons with complex and severe mental disorders; 4) improve the physical health of people with mental health disorders and minimise early deaths; 5) reduce discrimination and stigma; 6) improve safety and quality of mental health service delivery; 7) improve the mental health and prevent suicide rate of Aboriginal and Torres Islander people, and finally, 8) to ensure that support systems for effective mental health improvement and performance are set up.
Moreover, the Fifth Plan is aligned with the United Nation’s (UN) conventions for improving mental health care and protecting individuals with mental disorders (Commonwealth of Australia, 2017). Most importantly, Australian has ratified several UN conventions including the declaration on the freedoms of indigenous populations, the rights of people with disabilities, prevention against torture and other forms of racial discrimination.
Earlier national mental health policies focused on specific action areas consistent with the demand and health needs identified. Just like the previous mental health policies, the Fifth Plan recognizes the difficulties in addressing all mental health challenges at a go for all population groups in Australia. For effective handling of these challenges, the Fifth Plan is founded on several priority areas considered after incorporating the views of key stakeholders and entails supporting action plans to enable change for the long-term system reforms. For example, the policy outlines the importance of a national strategy in addressing suicide prevention. Previously, there was no dedicated suicide prevention strategy at a national level in Australia. Therefore, the Fifth Plan has addressed this policy gap by identifying critical activities in the health portfolio that can minimise the impact of suicide within the Australian community (Roberts et al., 2018, p.359). The policy also recognises the responsibility of all levels of government and agencies in suicide prevention (Roberts et al., 2018, p.361). Consequently, the policy has provided strategies on how the health sector should interact with other sectors including the police and the justice system in preventing suicide cases attributed to mental health problems.
The Fifth Plan incorporates the national aboriginal and Torres Islander suicide prevention plan as it is important in spearheading reforms to address mental health (Commonwealth of Australia, 2017). Therefore, the Fifth Plan is viewed as a complementary mechanism as it concentrates on areas in which a national strategy is required to achieve the best health outcomes when various levels of government work together (Commonwealth of Australia, 2017).
Since the inception of the Fifth Plan, several notable impacts have been achieved. For instance, there has been a major reorganisation of mental health care from hospital to community settings. There has also been an increased integration of carers’ and consumers’ input in treatment plans (Commonwealth of Australia, 2017). More specifically, the Fifth Plan puts people with mental illnesses at the center of decision making on how services are planned, evaluated, reformed and delivered (Roberts et al., 2018, p.361). The firth plan acknowledges the need for carers and consumers to integrate the lived experience of patients to co-produce outcomes and services that meet individual care demands. Finally, the Fifth Plan has strengthened practical action plans by partnering with communities at the regional, state and national level which lacked in previous reforms (Roberts et al., 2018, p.362). For instance, the plan provides mechanisms of ensuring that people with mental health problems have access to a range of service systems including housing, employment, education, and access to high-quality mental care (Commonwealth of Australia, 2017). Such services are critical in supporting the wellbeing and overall mental health of people with mental problems including their rehabilitation.
A national mental health policy plays a crucial role in protecting the rights of persons with mental illnesses as they are considered to be vulnerable populations in any society. Employing a national approach in Australia is more effective in addressing the complex needs of persons with mental illnesses compared to regional or state policies as it allows for coordinated funding and planning. People with mental health problems face discrimination, marginalization, and stigma which increase the possibility of their rights being violated. It is against this background that the Fifth Plan is founded as it provides a framework for resolving critical issues such as mental health care integration at all levels of government. The Fifth Plan is focused on ensuring there is improved quality and access to mental care alongside the protection of the rights of people with mental illnesses.