30 August 2022
With the mental health workforce at breaking point, the national Jobs and Skills Summit and the ACT Government must prioritise the urgent needs of the mental health sector.
Although the critical need for attention to the mental health workforce was well known before the pandemic started and has only become more urgent, there has been little progress in ensuring the safety of mental health workers or a continued pipeline of staff.
"The workforce crisis in the community mental health sector is too acute and too critical to wait," said Acting CEO of the Mental Health Community Coalition ACT (MHCC ACT), Corinne Dobson.
"The community-managed mental health sector has endured years of underfunding and upheaval. Our workers have demonstrated incredible agility, dedication and commitment to supporting our community. However, the pressures of increasing demand, complexity in people's mental health needs, and chronic under-resourcing and understaffing are unsustainable."
"We have seen continuous delay and deferral of the release and implementation of mental health workforce strategies, at both the national and ACT level."
Neither the Australian Government's ten-year National Mental Health Workforce Strategy (announced in 2018) nor the ACT Government's mental health workforce strategy (due in April 2022) has yet been released.
"The mental health sector is not unique in grappling with critical workforce challenges, yet the absence of a workforce strategy means we risk being left behind in the wider discussion around jobs and skills," said Ms Dobson.
Services are struggling to recruit, train and retain staff with the much-needed skills and experience in complex mental health and psychosocial needs, and workforce growth is not keeping up with the demands on services.
"We are seeing high levels of burnout, low morale and staff attrition. We need immediate investment in our workforce, or we won't be able to meet existing demand, let alone predicted growth in need for our services," said Ms Dobson.
Mental wellbeing is vital to support productivity across Australia's workforce, with the Productivity Commission estimating that the effect of mental ill health on Australia's workforce results in up to $22.5 billion in lost productivity each year.
"Many other critical sectors are experiencing workforce burnout and stress; however, a well-funded and resourced community-managed mental health sector would help to reduce these impacts," said Ms Dobson.
"Without this, our wider workforce will continue to experience lost workdays, withdrawal from the labour force and under-performance as a result of untreated mental health concerns."
Access to appropriate mental health support is particularly important for essential workforces, such as health care, aged care, childcare and education, which have struggled with the impacts of the pandemic.
"This is a make-or-break issue for the mental health system," said Ms Dobson.
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.