batyr welcomes increased funding for mental health and a focus on reform in this year’s Budget, but more must be done to support communities doing it tough
Young people have faced a year like no other and we don’t yet fully understand the true future impacts of the virus, lockdowns, economic insecurity and a loss of hope on their mental health and wellbeing. We need reform and investment to get ahead of it. As a response to the wave of inquiries and the anticipation for reform in the sector, this year’s Budget succeeds as a starting point for a new kind of system that works for young people.
We welcome the funding for prevention including $13.1 million for ReachOut Australia to continue their amazing work supporting young people online. After seeing young people respond positively to online services during the pandemic, an investment in transforming Head to Health into a national online gateway for digital mental health services will go a long way.
We’re also grateful to see the establishment of a new National Suicide Prevention Office to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to reducing suicides which organisations like Suicide Prevention Australia have been advocating for for sometime now. The Government’s commitment to work with States and Territories to provide universal aftercare for all Australian’s after a suicide attempt, including young people, is a critical investment in care at a time of great need. It’s also fantastic to see funding for culturally appropriate services like specialised suicide aftercare and a 24/7 crisis line for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as targeted programs for culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
While suicide aftercare and postvention programs are much needed, as an organisation working in preventative mental health education we understand the need to invest resource before young people are in crisis. Programs that reduce stigma, increase help-seeking and educate about positive coping strategies, preparing young people to face challenges when they arise and enabling them to reach a state of flourishing were not a focus of this budget. We must invest to support young people to be their best.
The Budget also included continued support for headspace and more coordination with the States and Territories to improve headspace’s clinical capacity for the many young people on waitlists, as well as those with more complex needs. Demand is higher than ever, and young people are telling us that sometimes services can not see them for months and months. Boosting the workforce can not happen quickly enough as young people need help now. Investments like $11 million to increase the number of psychiatrists, including in regional and remote areas and $27.8 million to increase the number of nurses, psychologists and allied health practitioners are welcome. And a further $3.1 million to train 390 peer workers shows that the Government is listening to consumers and valuing lived-experience. We’ll be watching closely as the National Cabinet works towards a new National Agreement on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in November.
Stigma reduction also got some attention with $1 million to reduce the stigma associated with mental health among health practitioners. This work is essential, there are many great health professionals providing very high quality care but at batyr we continue to hear too many young people sharing stories about negative experiences when opening up and putting their trust in health professionals. The National Stigma Reduction Strategy currently in development by the National Mental Health Commission will no doubt build on this and help set the strategy we need to shift stigma in the long term.
An emphasis on young women in the Budget is also very positive, especially the focus on eating disorders which disproportionately affect them. The $26.9 million invested to support people with eating disorders and their families, more workforce training, establishing a new National Eating Disorder Research Centre and the focus on the mental health of families and carers is very welcome.
batyr also supports the significance of data and evaluation in the Budget with $117.2 million invested to build a comprehensive evidence base to ensure policy decisions are made that maximise impact, including funding for a longitudinal child mental health and wellbeing study. This year batyr has invested in a new Data and Insights team, as well as a new Global Impact team to not only maximise the impact of our programs, but to listen to and amplify the stories and experiences of young people and put their voices at the forefront of these conversations.
Since the compounding events of bushfires, floods, a pandemic and more, batyr has been on the ground listening and adapting to the mental health needs of young people and their communities. And these communities, the ones that are first to support young people when they are going through their toughest times, have been hit hard. Talking with teachers, parents, carers, coaches, university staff and other gatekeepers, batyr has heard about the enormous pressure placed on them to support the mental health of the young people close to them. Although some of these announcements are greatly needed and show a willingness to direct investment appropriately, much more support is needed to relieve that pressure through community-based prevention programs, and to equip all Australians with the right skills to be able to help effectively. We must continue to meet young people where they are and build the capacity of communities to prevent mental-ill health in young people well before it reaches crisis point.
This year’s Budget has taken steps towards more prevention and at batyr we’re hopeful this will turn into strides towards true system reform. With many details around implementation and what comes next still to be determined, we will continue to amplify the voices of young people and work together with our sector peers to champion lived-experience and help shape a system young people deserve.