Mental Health Royal Commission: Interim report finds ‘broken’ system


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Late last year the Victorian Royal Commission into Mental Health released its interim findings. The report, as well as a raft of health experts, have described the mental health system as ‘broken’.

This interim report listed some initial recommendations, and the Andrew’s Labor government also suggested how changes to the system could be funded. They said they would fund the changes necessary by introducing a new tax.

While scant on details, it seems this would likely come in the form of something similar to the Medicare levy.

The report outlines some rationale for the reforms. It points out that in Australia mental illness and injury from self harm and suicide contribute significantly to the burden of disease with only cancer being rated as more burdensome.

Burden of disease refers to the impact of a health issue and is measured by several indicators including the financial burden on the state, as well as its death rate.

In 2018 Victoria saw 720 deaths by suicide. This was more than three times the road toll! More than 7000 people were admitted to a hospital due to self harm last year. The dramatically increasing rate of self harm among young people is also highlighted.

The report correctly points out a myriad of reasons for these horrendous statistics. Housing, lack of access to health services, social isolation, drug use (particularly ice) and most importantly economic disadvantage are cited.

What they fail to do, of course, is draw conclusions about the origins of these issues. They also make very little effort to address them directly. Clearly, they have little interest in doing so when it is capitalism itself that’s responsible.

If there is no intention to address the real causes of the problems then any report is only going to be of limited value. However, there are some recommendations that call for support to be better and more accessible. Its estimated that one in five of us will experience mental illness at some point in our lives. And as capitalism becomes more brutal, these figures will only increase.

The nine main recommendations that are made in the report include establishing a new Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing, expanding acute mental health services, for services to be designed and delivered by people with lived experience, as well as increasing their representation in the workforce.

There are also recommendations around suicide prevention support and expanding social and wellbeing teams. These teams should be supported by a new Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing Centre.

They report also recommends the creation of public mental health services in rural and regional areas and funding for postgraduate funding for nurses among other things.

While most of these proposals are to be welcomed, they need to be qualified with the need for these services to be in public hands. No public funds should be handed over to private entities that aim to profit by delivering these services.

The worrying sign is that the recommendation referring to acute mental health service expansion makes it clear that the Andrew’s government wants to procure beds from private providers in private facilities.

They also state that any new beds created should involve public, private and community health “partnerships”. The profit motive needs to be cut out of the sector rather than providing new means to expand it.

Additionally, we should oppose any new taxes being levied on ordinary people to pay for the reforms we need. A multitude of companies continue to operate in Australia tax free and millions of dollars is squandered on the private healthcare sector and private health funds.

Rather than funnelling money to private companies, those funds should be utilised to pay for improvements. After all, capitalism lies at the heart of the issues driving the mental health crisis, why should the victims of the system pay to fix the problems.

Socialists agree that the mental health system, as with the broader public health system, is well and truly broken. We fight for reforms to make things better for users of the services, their families and carers, as well as fighting for better pay and working conditions for healthcare workers.

Ultimately though, we fight for healthcare for all as a human right. If capitalism can’t afford that then we say that we can’t afford capitalism.

By a public healthcare worker

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