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Millions miss out on mental health treatment -

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Millions miss out on mental health treatment

The World Today - Friday, 24 October , 2008 12:34:00

Reporter: Paula Kruger

ELEANOR HALL: A survey which has found that more than two-million mentally ill Australians are not
getting adequate treatment has prompted calls for a radical change in the country's mental health
system.

The National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing is released by the Bureau of Statistics every 10
years and the latest report shows that despite recent public awareness campaigns, there has been no
improvement in treating mental disorders since the late nineties.

As Paula Kruger reports, the study warns that young Australians are the most at risk.

PAULA KRUGER: In June this year the Health Minister Nicola Roxon addressed a function organised by
the Mental Health Council of Australia. There she staked her success as Health Minister on doing
more to prevent mental health problems.

Now a report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals how much of a challenge that personal
ambition involves.

Preventing mental health problems usually involves working with young people and the National
Survey on Mental Health and Wellbeing shows that more than a quarter of 16 to 35-year-olds had a
mental disorder last year.

Chris Tanti is the CEO of Headspace which specialises in helping young people with mental health
problems.

CHRIS TANTI: The majority of people that we're seeing in our services have anxiety and depressive
disorders and I guess, as well as a whole range of other disorders. And what we're keen to do is
send a message to the community that early intervention in these issues is pretty critical and the
earlier you get on top of it the better off you are.

Headspace has set up 30 sites around the country and in essence we only cover 30 per cent of the
population. The demand for these services is enormous.

PAULA KRUGER: It isn't only young people that aren't getting access to mental health services.
Despite a $1.8-billion package from the Howard government in 2006 and many other cash injections
most of the people who need help aren't getting it.

The Mental Health Council of Australia says the most startling find of the report is that more than
two-million Australians, that is 60 per cent of people who experienced a mental health disorder,
did not use a mental health service.

David Crosbie is the council's CEO.

DAVID CROSBIE: Ten years ago when we last did this survey we had similar figures. The government
has invested a huge amount in increasing access to address the very issues that are being surveyed
in this report. And what we've found is that we haven't moved forward. In fact if anything we've
moved backwards in terms of giving people access to the mental health services they need.

PAULA KRUGER: David Crosbie says the current system of dealing with mental health is inadequate at
every level and radical change is needed if there are to be any improvements.

DAVID CROSBIE: I think it's time for us to say we can't just keep putting new money into old
systems; that the systems themselves are not working for Australians. When you get over 60 per cent
of people who experience a mental health disorder in any 12 months not being able to get their
needs met, and desperate for additional mental health services, I think we have a very major
problem.

If you compare that to our major diseases like diabetes and heart and cancer, over 80 per cent of
people can get treatment for the kinds of conditions they have. And there's a huge gap between 80
per cent getting treatment and 35 per cent getting treatment.

PAULA KRUGER: Earlier this year the Federal Government established a national advisory council on
mental health consisting of 10 experts in the field including the Mental Health Council's David
Crosbie.

It is among a range of measures already announced by the Health Minister but experts in treating
mental health disorders say they won't be satisfied until mental health is recognised as a national
health priority.

They also say they're frustrated that they only get to find out how bad the mental health system is
every 10 years when the Bureau of Statistics releases the nation's mental health and wellbeing
survey.

ELEANOR HALL: Paula Kruger reporting.