ACT Budget investments in mental health are welcome, but mainly for bandaid solutions

2 August 2022


The Mental Health Community Coalition ACT (MHCC ACT) welcomes increased funding for suicide prevention and mental health services in the 2022–23 ACT Budget. However, the funding commitments provide only patches to the current system without addressing growing service gaps and the dire need for systemic change in the mental health sector.


"As the ACT continues to respond to and recover from COVID-19, now more than ever, supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our community must be a priority," said Corinne Dobson, Acting CEO of MHCC ACT.


"This year's Budget provides some welcome announcements, especially in community-based suicide prevention, and the expansion of perinatal mental health initiatives and services for children and young people. This funding will help efforts to reduce distress and vulnerability to suicide at a time when children and young people face heightened challenges to mental health and wellbeing.


"However, the scale of investment falls well below what is needed to plug the gaps in community mental health services, let alone lay the foundations for much-needed system reform and future growth in demand."


The ACT Government has committed to reducing reliance on crisis-driven acute mental health care and acknowledged that this needs strong community mental health programs. However, that will not be achieved by the piecemeal investments in the Budget.


"Continuing to make one-off investments in an already fragmented system is unlikely to result in a comprehensive system of integrated care that Canberrans living with mental health conditions need," Ms Dobson said.


Without adequate community support programs and services, there will be a growing demand on our hospitals, as people do not have access to vital support to prevent them from requiring acute and crisis care options.


"The Budget also fails to recognise the urgent need for significant systemic change to address identified gaps in psychosocial support services and early intervention, or the workforce shortages in the mental health sector," Ms Dobson said.


"This is a missed opportunity to invest in the holistic, community-managed services that would keep the pressure off hospitals long-term by providing the proverbial fence at the top of the cliff."


Quotes attributable to Ms Dobson on specific topics

Budget funding announcements

  • "Spending on mental health prevention and community support in the ACT continues to fall relative to acute services."

  • "Since 2014, per capita funding for community-managed mental health services in the ACT has more than halved, and the pressure on chronically underfunded services has only intensified as demand for mental health support has grown through the pandemic."

  • "While this Budget has made some welcome investments toward bridging this service gap, the level and scope of investment fall far short of what the community needs."

  • "While other state and territory governments across Australia have delivered record spending on mental health, the ACT risks falling behind, at a time when data repeatedly shows we have worse mental health outcomes than much of the country."

  • "Many of the measures that form part of the Budget's $37.5 million in funding for mental health are not new. They were included in the bilateral agreement signed earlier this year as part of the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement between the Commonwealth and ACT Governments."

Mental health sector workforce

  • "We are disappointed this Budget has failed to deliver action on the escalating workforce crisis across the mental health sector."

  • "Within the ACT, growth in service demand has far outstripped growth in the community mental health workforce, and services are grappling with severe workforce shortages, staff burnout and attrition."

  • "This pressure of increasing demand, complexity in people's mental health needs, and chronic under-resourcing and understaffing is taking its toll across the mental health workforce."

  • "The workforce crisis in the community mental health sector is too acute and too critical to wait. We need immediate investment in our workforce to alleviate the unsustainable pressures and strain on community services, or we will be unable to meet growing demand."

Psychosocial support services

  • "This Budget fails to close the gap in psychosocial support services in the ACT. Psychosocial supports delivered largely by non-government organisations play a crucial role in supporting people living with severe mental health conditions to recover and live well."

  • "If we want to stop people escalating into a mental health crisis, we need to frontload support and rehabilitation so they can get support and services when and where it is needed."

  • "Report after report into our mental health system has shown that preventing people needing crisis intervention requires increased investment in the community services provided by non-government organisations."

  • "In addition to investing in more services to meet unmet demand and rising community mental health needs, non-government organisations must be adequately funded for the services and support they are contracted to deliver. This includes sufficient funding to cover wages, operational costs and necessary training, supervision and professional development for staff."

Housing

  • "MHCC ACT welcomes the $30 million investment to deliver promised public housing and $57.3 million to undertake public housing repairs."

  • "In addition to growing the supply of social and affordable housing, there is an urgent need to expand the availability of integrated housing and psychosocial support services for those living with mental ill health and experiencing or at risk of homelessness."

  • "There is a strong link between homelessness and mental health conditions, and each can result in and exacerbate the other."

  • "Access to stable housing is foundational for preventing and recovering from mental ill-health."

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health care

  • "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT bear a disproportionate burden of suicide and mental ill health."

  • "It is imperative additional targeted measures are implemented in partnership with First Nations communities to improve access to culturally safe, inclusive and respectful social and emotional wellbeing care and mental health services."

  • "We welcome the Budget funding for a new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander alcohol and other drug residential rehabilitation facility, to complete the construction of a purpose-built facility for the Gugan Gulwan Aboriginal Youth Corporation, and towards addressing the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT criminal justice system. These measures will positively impact the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans."

  • "However, we are disappointed to see no specific mental health provisions for our First Nations peoples in this Budget."

Mental health services across the lifespan

  • "Mental health services for older people in all settings across the ACT are significantly under-resourced and less developed than mental health services for the rest of the population."

  • "While we welcome the Budget investments for children and young people's mental health, we had hoped to see greater investment to support the mental health of older Canberrans, especially with the recent release of the ACT's first strategy for older people's mental health."


Media contact: Angel Hellyer, Communications and Events Manager, 0493 388 756 | Angel.Hellyer@mhccact.org.au

MHCC ACT is the peak body for community mental health services in the ACT. Find out more about MHCC ACT at www.mhccact.org.au.