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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20224


Mr BARTLETT (9:23 PM) —Earlier today, like a number of members and senators, I visited the demonstration of the Rethink Initiative of Janssen-Cilag. This initiative consists of a large life-size game of snakes and ladders—the snakes and ladders of schizophrenia. The aim of the game is to increase community awareness of the day-to-day challenges and issues facing sufferers of schizophrenia and their carers. I would like to acknowledge the work of Janssen-Cilag's initiative in raising awareness of this illness which afflicts so many Australians and I also want to acknowledge the work of the many carers and support groups.

The sad reality is that some 195,000 Australians are living with schizophrenia. Roughly one person in 100 will develop schizophrenia before they reach the age of 45, thus interfering with their ability to carry on the day-to-day activities of life. The symptoms are loss of contact with reality, confusion in leading normal daily lives, difficulties in thinking and communicating clearly, low levels of motivation, withdrawal, difficulty in expressing emotions or relating effectively to others and, at the worst levels, delusions, false beliefs and even manic depression.

Most of these people will be affected in their late teens or early twenties. So, for most of their adult lives, they are sufferers of the effects of this terrible illness. Some people are genetically predisposed towards this illness and find that it is triggered by things such as excessive stress, drug use or abuse or some sort of traumatic event. For some it is a lifelong affliction; for others, the right treatment can bring relief—not a cure but at least some effective level of relief and some effective management—so that they can resume a reasonably acceptable quality of life.

The keys to effective treatment for schizophrenia are early diagnosis and treatment—usually with medication—and appropriate levels of support. The medications are of two types. Traditionally they have been the antipsychotic medications which help to restore the natural chemical balance in the brain. They are often very effective but there are sometimes quite nasty side effects. There are also the newer a-typical medications which are less likely to cause side effects and can still be very effective.

This illness which affects so many Australians must be addressed. As I have said, there is the personal suffering 195,000 Australians, not to mention the impact on the lives of their families, their friends and their colleagues. It really does need serious attention. The estimated medical health cost associated with schizophrenia is $661 million a year. The estimated economic cost, because of lost time at work et cetera, is $1.85 billion a year.

The federal government is strongly committed to health care reform. Over the last years, Australian government expenditure on mental health care has increased by 27 per cent in real terms—a substantial increase in the commitment of this government in addressing mental health initiatives—but there is a lot more to do. The 2003-08 National Mental Health Strategy lists some key priority areas for the Australian government and involves increased funding as well. The priority areas include promoting mental health and preventing mental health problems and mental illness; improving service responsiveness; strengthening quality; and fostering research, innovation and sustainability. That plan was agreed to at the Australian Health Ministers Conference on 31 July this year. I am pleased to see that all governments in Australia are committed to addressing this terrible affliction.

Schizophrenia affects so many people—sufferers themselves, their families and their carers. I am pleased that the Australian government are doing their bit, but we need to be sympathetic and empathetic to the concerns of these people and we need to do whatever we can to help address this illness.