Mental Health Services

August 13, 2018

I am very pleased to support the motion on mental health from the member for Fisher, who, like me, comes to this place with a lived experience of mental illness in his family. Last week I was joined at Hobartville Public School, in the Hawkesbury, by the shadow minister for schools. Straightaway their principal, who is doing an outstanding job of building cohesion and inclusivity in her community, brought up mental health as the school's biggest challenge.

It isn't unusual for mental wellness, and the challenges that come with that, to be the first thing that many principals and teachers speak to me about when I am out at local schools. It was also the theme of the guest speaker at the Blue Mountains Vietnam Veterans Memorial Day march yesterday in Springwood. David Savage, the first Australian civilian to be wounded in Afghanistan—by a 12-year-old suicide bomber—spoke about his work with Soldier On. This is something we should be talking about and doing something about.

I certainly welcome any increased investment in this area. I note that the Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Network announced a range of new mental health programs that are rolling out this year, including headspace's Youth Early Psychosis Program; the Blue Mountains Aboriginal Culture and Resource Centre and Ted Noffs both delivering support for people who have ice addiction; and the Black Dog Institute delivering training for local GPs, practice nurses and general practice staff, to enhance their support for people at risk of suicide and those suffering mental illness.

I do believe that primary health, the first point of contact for people who are unwell, has a key role. Patients who are mentally unwell don't always keep appointments and they don't always show up on time, and that can create real tensions in the sort of treatment that they then go on to receive, even at a local level. It is disappointing, though, to see that, this month, referrals under the ATAPS scheme, where people in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury can access a program of psychological therapy, will be reduced from six sessions per referral to five and to 10 per calendar year. People will know that those sessions can go by very fast.

When people ask me about the combative nature of parliament, I point out that the one place where I see more alignment of interests and shared beliefs than any other is in the suicide prevention and mental health space. We all talk about the commitment to mental health this government has and that we have on this side of the parliament. That doesn't mean we are necessarily matching our commitment as well as we could. After working closely with my community on the issue of mental health over the last couple of years, and consulting with a broad cross- section of both providers and consumers of mental health services, I know that we need to see more services delivered outside the central hub for our region, which is Penrith, which is not even in my electorate.

For people in the upper Blue Mountains it's more than an hour's train ride, and there is only one train an hour,
so just to get to an appointment can be the best part of a day gone. In the Hawkesbury you can't even catch a train there. We are in desperate need of affordable and accessible mental health services, delivered on location. We need resources targeted at early intervention and prevention for young people, delivered on location. I congratulate headspace for being involved in the Platform Youth Services winter sleep-out on Friday night, but, if a young person did decide to visit headspace today, it would take them hours to get there from anywhere in the Hawkesbury if
they didn't have a car.

We need support and education networks in place for families of people who have challenges with their mental health, because sadly we are still not taking that holistic approach that's needed. Families, friends and carers are left to try to make do with the information they get on Google, yet we know how vital they are in the recovery and support of people who have mental illness, particularly at those crucial stages just prior to a major crisis or incident and just after people are discharged from hospital. We need mental health support in our schools so that our teachers aren't alone in the role of counsellors and psychologists.

This feedback is mirrored by findings of the Mission Australia youth survey report 2017, which found that mental health and alcohol and drugs—two issues that go hand in hand—were identified by both male and female survey respondents as their top two issues. Nationally, 33.7 per cent of those surveyed identified mental health as  the top issue, and 32 per cent identified alcohol and drugs.

As I said to the attendees at the PTSD awareness walk organised by the Richmond based Australian Resource Centre for PTSD, these are not issues that governments alone can solve, but we can do a lot to ensure that services are provided in the places that they're needed.