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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20547


Mr ROSS CAMERON (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Family and Community Services) (9:49 AM) —I want to begin by congratulating my colleague Senator Helen Coonan, Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Revenue, for gathering together an extensive group of members and senators from both sides of the House today for breakfast to consider the issue of mental health in Australia. It was an excellent occasion, addressed by some of the leading thinkers and practitioners in the field. I note that Dr Grace Groom, Chair of the Mental Health Council of Australia, talked about the fact that no family is immune, that all of us are at risk and that mental illness is not something that picks and chooses between the poor and the rich, between men and women or between the young and the old. Professor Ian Hickie, Professor of Community Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales and Chief Executive Officer of beyondblue, the national depression initiative, also gave a lucid presentation in which he mentioned the fact that mental health outcomes were improving amongst older Australians but that amongst younger Australians there was deep concern that the incidence of mental illness was increasing.

I also want to mention the fact that Professor Hickie's remarks confirmed the contents of a discussion I had with a psychiatrist practising in Parramatta just last week in which he said to me that a very high proportion of his younger patients were also cannabis users. It is not my purpose today to go on a tirade against cannabis use. I merely note the risk, as he noted to me, that when we talk about harm minimisation there is a proportion of the population of young people in particular for whom there is an intolerance to cannabis use in terms of its linkage to schizophrenia. Professor Hickie referred this morning to the November 2002 edition of the British Medical Journal,which contains a large Swedish conscript study which found an unequivocal link between cannabis use and schizophrenia. It also refers to a longitudinal study in Victoria, showing the link between cannabis use and schizophrenia in young Australian women.

Today, Parramatta mourns the death of Peter Poulson, the principal of the Parramatta college of adult and community education, the grandfather who went to the aid of his two grandchildren, both of whom were slain by their father earlier this week. The costs of mental illness are all around us and we have to work together to remove its stigma and find practical responses to it. (Time expired)