Close the gap in community mental health

We will boost funding to Mental Health Community Support Services to provide care to those with episodic mental illness.

The Greens strongly support the introduction of the NDIS which will provide more individualised support services to people with severe, permanent mental illness. We are committed to the full implementation of the scheme without delay or reduction in scope.  

While NDIS is part of the solution, many people with mental illness will not be eligible as their illness is episodic or not considered severe enough. Community mental health support services provide critical, early intervention and ongoing care to people living with mental illness, however there has been long and growing wait lists for these services.

Now government changes in the eligibility criteria mean only those with severe and permanent mental illness will be eligible to access these community support services. This is leaving a gaping hole in care for those with episodic conditions.

Further, recent restructuring of funding to the mental health service sector has meant that many non-clinical, specialised community mental health support programs have lost their funding and are likely to close. This means that many people currently supported by these programs risk slipping through the cracks.

There is also a lack of social inclusion and housing for people with a mental illness, and a lack of support for carers.

The Greens will:

  • invest $80 million over four years in Mental Health Community Support Services to provide care to up to 10,000 people not eligible for NDIS, including restoring funding to quality specialist and non-clinical community based mental health support services; and
  • invest $40 million over four years to increase residential services, provide employment assistance, address discrimination and stigma, increase consumer advocacy and increase support to carers.

NATIONAL DISABILTY INSURANCE SCHEME 

The NDIS will mean far more people get the support they need through funded individualised and high quality support packages. The Greens are committed to the full implementation of the NDIS without delay. 

We support honouring the current agreement between the Victorian Government with the Commonwealth, to increase Victorian Government investment from $1.67 billion to $2.5 billion over the next five years. We can be trusted to strongly resist any efforts to slow it down or reduce its scope.

BOOSTING MENTAL HEALTH COMMUNITY SUPPORT SERVICES

While the NDIS is a big step up from where we have been, particularly for people with severe mental illness, it is not a panacea. It does not provide support to people with episodic or less severe mental illness. Nor does it provide support to young people who might be experiencing mental illness for the first time. These people will continue to need support from community based mental health services.

Unfortunately, the government has pulled the rug out from under people by changing the eligibility criteria for receiving support from Mental Health Community Support Services. Rather than using new funding through NDIS to expand mental health services, as has been done in every other state in Australia, the Victorian Coalition Government has changed services’ eligibility criteria to limit them to providing care to only those eligible for NDIS, which are those with severe and permanent mental illness. This will leave a gaping hole in care for those with episodic conditions or mild mental health issues. Without early intervention and ongoing care, many of these people will be at risk of spiralling into crisis, making people more vulnerable to hospitalisation, incarceration and homelessness.

The Greens are strong supporters of primary and community based health care. People’s mental health can be affected by a range of factors such as financial stress, poor housing, lack of social support, family violence and other health issues. Community based mental health services provide a range of early intervention and recovery-oriented support services enabling a whole-of-person, tailored response that can address underlying circumstances that have allowed the mental illness to take hold. These services help many people manage their illness and live full, healthy lives. They also reduce costs to the health system of providing more acute care. 

Already many people living on a low income are missing out on essential support because they cannot afford private psychological care and there are waiting lists for Mental Health Community Support Services. With changes to the eligibility for these services, the number of people missing out on care is estimated to reach up to 10,000 people in the next two to four years.

The Greens will boost funding to Mental Health Community Support Services by $80 million over four years. We will increase services in areas of need, including those where none currently exist. You can trust us to provide care to all people with mental illness, not just those eligible for the NDIS.

SAVING SPECIALIST SERVICES

In the transition to the NDIS, the mental health community support service system has been simplified, with fewer organisations providing centralised services and one access point for all services in each region. 

While there are likely to be some benefits of the new approach, there have also been downsides. Many community agencies that provided mental health support in a welcoming, non-clinical environment have lost their funding. 

This type of non-clinical, drop-in centre support is particularly important for people who don’t identify as having a mental illness and thus are unlikely to access traditional, appointment-based services. They are often highly specialised to particular at risk groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, homeless people, victims of family violence, young people, women and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. 

Without such specialist services, many more people could slip through the cracks, increasing their vulnerability to ending up in hospital, homeless or in prison.

The Greens do not support the removal of funding from many of these specialist, drop-in services. We will return funding to quality specialist and non-clinical community mental health support services as part of our $80 million boost in funding.

IMPROVING SOCIAL INCLUSION AND BOOSTING CARER SUPPORT

People living with mental illness continue to face discrimination and stigma. More needs to be done to increase social inclusion, increase people’s choice and control over their lives, and enable them to participate more fully in their communities. Key areas to address include increasing the capacity of community services to better understand mental illness, providing more employment assistance, and providing tailored housing support programs to help people find and maintain housing. 

Carers are critical to the health of people with mental illness and they save the government millions from our health and welfare system. For carers to sustain themselves over the long term, they need adequate support, including respite, advocacy, counselling, peer to peer support and access to information and education.

Currently, the Victorian Government spends very little on supporting mental health carers through education, support and advocacy. Some support is provided from the Federal Government through the Mutual Support and Self Help program, but there are no commitments to continue this funding beyond 2015. The Greens will advocate for continued funding to the Mutual Support and Self Help program.

The Greens will invest $40 million over four years in improving social inclusion through a range of measures and will boost funding for support to carers.