In a draft report widely described as “damning” the Australian Government’s Productivity Commission has said that mental ill-health and suicide cost the nation nearly $500 million per day - $180 billion per year – and called mental health “an add-on to the physical health system”.

Amongst a raft of recommendations, the report emphasises the need for better support for young people.

"75% of those who develop mental illness first experience symptoms before they turn 25, and mental ill-health in critical schooling and employment years has long lasting effects for not only your job prospects but many aspects of your life. Getting help early is key to prevention and better outcomes," Chair Michael Brennan said.

He added that, “Mental ill-health has huge impacts on people, communities and our economy but mental health is treated as an add-on to the physical health system. This has to change."

Statistics show that while over their lifetime one-in-two Australians will be affected by mental ill-health, including anxiety and depression, up to a million people don't get the help they need.

In any year, approximately one in five Australians experiences mental ill-health. While most people manage their health themselves, many who do seek treatment are not receiving the level of care necessary. As a result, too many people suffer additional preventable physical and mental distress, relationship breakdown, stigma, and loss of life satisfaction and opportunities.

"Too many people still avoid treatment because of stigma, and too many people fall through the gaps in the system because the services they need are not available or suitable," Productivity Commissioner Stephen King said.

The report says that change is needed not only in the health system itself but in schools, workplaces, housing and the justice system.

The report includes a comprehensive set of reforms to reorient the mental health system to close service gaps, better target services to meet needs and focus on early intervention and prevention.

The reform areas are –

  1. Prevention and early intervention for mental illness and suicide attempts
  2. Close critical gaps in healthcare services
  3. Investment in services beyond health
  4. Assistance for people with mental illness to get into work and enable early treatment of work-related mental illness
  5. Fundamental reform to care coordination, governance and funding arrangements

The draft report was released on 31 October 2019, with written submissions accepted until 23 January 2020.