Mental health report card 'confronting'

Australia's inaugural "report card" on mental health services has been described by the chair of the National Mental Health Commission as "confronting" after it found services need a major overhaul.

Professor Allan Fels said Australia had failed in its delivery of mental health services and the situation needed urgent attention.

"The statistics related to physical illness and early death among people with a mental health difficulty are appalling," he said.

"Their health is worse than the general community on just about every measure. People with a severe mental illness have their life expectancy reduced by 25 years on average due to the increased likelihood of heart related conditions, diabetes and obesity. There are many contributing factors and there are no simple answers, but this demands immediate action."

Launching the report card in Sydney today, Professor Fels said it was important that the prime minister, Julia Gillard, give mental health a seat at the "top of the table".

"The Commission has been given the independence and permission we need to 'tell it like it is'," he said.

"This report uncovers some difficult truths that it will be very difficult to walk away from.”

The recommendations include reducing the early death of Australians with severe mental illness and improving their physical health; minimising the use of seclusion and restraint; increasing access to mental health services from 6 to 8 per cent to 12 per cent of Australia's population; making the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples a higher priority; stopping people from being discharged from mental health services into homelessness or unstable homes; increasing the employment rates of people with mental illness and paying greater attention to supporting them at work; increasing access to home-based visiting to support families and children; and providing effective, local interventions to prevent suicide.

"We will be back with our second report card in 12 months' time, reporting on what's happened, whether people's stories have changed for the better and where things have improved," Professor Fels said.

"In the meantime, I urge political leaders to put their political tensions aside and continue their bipartisan support for, and investments in, mental health so that all Australians can live contributing lives."

* Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

This story Mental health report card 'confronting' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.