Hope for young people living with mental ill-health with steps toward a ‘person-centred’ mental health system

24 November 2020, AustraliaThe recommendations from the final report by the Productivity Commission into Mental Health, along with the National Suicide Prevention Adviser’s Interim Advice, are a major turning point for young Australians living with mental ill-health and should give hope that a ‘person-centred’ mental health system can be achieved.

In particular, we welcome the inclusion of the voices of nearly 2,000 Australians with a lived experience of suicidal behaviour that helped inform the Interim Advice report, and the recognition in the final report that these voices should be at the centre of planning, priority-setting, design and delivery of a whole-of-government suicide prevention approach and whole-of-system reform. 

The Prime Minister’s address yesterday echoed this need to include the voices of people with lived experiences in order to turn these recommendations into action, which will hopefully turn this positive step into strides towards achieving practical and effective mental health system reforms. 

Mental ill-health may cost the Australian economy $200 billion a year but those numbers don’t represent the people and communities affected by mental ill-health, who need the support of the whole nation.

Voices like Bella Cini, the youngest member of the batyr board at 21 and a suicide survivor, who said that it’s comforting to see that there seems to be a larger focus on prevention and early intervention in the recommendations. 

“[The PC report and the Interim Advice] gives me hope for the future, that a better mental health care system can be created so that young people are better supported,” Bella said.

“It’s vital that young people are supported throughout their mental health journeys, particularly within the current climate in which young people are feeling a sense of collective anxiety surrounding their future.”

The final report recommendations called on the “leadership and direction” of people with lived experience to help address an underinvestment in prevention and early help for people. 

This includes making the social and emotional development of school children a national priority, and the development of a National Stigma Reduction Strategy, which would address the stigma including self-stigma, that is a leading barrier stopping so many young people reaching out for support when they need it. 

Part of the solution in reducing stigma is education and to continue sharing lived experiences at a peer-to-peer level.

Bella said part of the solution in reducing stigma is education and to continue sharing lived experiences at a peer-to-peer level.

“I truly believe that a peer-to-peer model is incredibly effective in changing the way people choose to act when mental health issues arise,” she said.

“On a personal level, I’ve been able to witness how creating honest and positive conversations surrounding lived experiences have helped those in my immediate circle.”

“If we were able to replicate this on a larger scale, I think we could create real cultural change, and the mental wellbeing of all Australians would be so much better for it.”

Quoting the National Suicide Prevention Adviser Christine Morgan, batyr CEO Nic Brown said, ‘suicidal distress has its origins in experiences and traumas that happen long before someone seeks help or tries to take their own life.’

“We know that 75% of mental health problems emerge before the age of 25, so if early warning signs can be identified and addressed early, we can stop their progression into more severe mental illnesses.”

It’s promising to see a prioritisation of these recommendations via the Health Reform Committee, and batyr looks forward to the report due by May 2021, and an agreement  between states and territories on a national approach and steps being taken by November 2021.

“The Prime Minister said that the COVID-19 pandemic has given us an ‘inflection point’  to achieve better mental health outcomes for all Australians, and that this needs to come from every level of government and from within every community,” Nic said. 

“This acknowledges that improved mental health outcomes are a matter of both systemic and cultural change, and we couldn’t agree more. There is hope that we can change the story of mental health in Australia, to better support those that are suffering in silence and to catch young people early before they fall through the cracks. Now is the time to put these recommendations into action.”