Mental illness and suicide ‘costing $500 million a day’

Last Thursday 31st October 2019, the Productivity Commission released an interim report on Mental Illness & Suicide. Unfortunately it clashed with the draft release of the Royal Commission into Aged Care and did not receive the publicity it deserved last night. Such a pity that these issues get more traction when looked at from an economic perspective. (Kerri’s comment)

Dana McCauley: Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

“Mental ill health and suicide are costing Australia up to $180 billion a year and services are failing to meet “community expectations”, the Productivity Commission has found, calling for major reforms to ensure people can get the right type of help when they need it.

“Too many people still avoid treatment because of stigma, and too many people fall through the gaps in the system because the services they need are not available or suitable,” Productivity Commissioner Stephen King said.

The draft report of the commission’s mental health inquiry found lost productivity from mental ill health and suicide cost up to $18 billion a year, with the total hit to the economy “conservatively” up to $51 billion a year.

Costs associated with “diminished health and reduced life expectancy” totalled “about $130 billion”.Advertisement

The commission’s wide-ranging review of Australia’s mental health treatment sector – which attracted more than 560 submissions – found it was being treated as “an add-on to the physical health system” and must be drastically overhauled.

Official data shows that, over their lifetime, half of Australians will be affected by mental ill-health including anxiety and depression – but up to a million people are not getting the help they need.

Of those who did seek help, the report said, many were “not receiving the level of care necessary” and, as a result, too many suffered “additional preventable physical and mental distress, relationship breakdown, stigma, and loss of life satisfaction and opportunities”.

It recommended sweeping changes to health services, schools – such as appointing “wellbeing leaders” to support staff and students – along with workplaces, housing and the justice system.

State and federal governments must work together to close gaps in the availability of mental health services, the report said, to allow “timely access by people with mental ill-health to the right treatment for their condition” – with “pooled funding” to be overseen by a central body.

“These changes should be underpinned by a new intergovernmental National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement,” the report said.

Productivity Commission chairman Michael Brennan said better follow-up care after a suicide attempt should be the first priority, as it was “proven to save lives and could be started immediately”.

The report called for reforms to ensure that “care pathways” for people accessing the mental health system were “clear and seamless”, with a single care plan for each person receiving care from multiple providers, and to ensure providers were subject to “genuine accountability”.

Ongoing funding must be put in place to guarantee extended hours services for people experiencing a mental health crisis to “provide an alternative to hospital emergency departments”, the report said, along with a sufficient number of acute hospital beds and places in community-based treatment programs.


Mr Brennan said early intervention was needed to give young people the best prospects of recovery, as mental ill health during “critical schooling and employment years” had “long-lasting effects”.

The report recommended “consistent screening of social and emotional development” in early childhood health checks “to enable early intervention”, and “proactive outreach services” in schools to support students who had “disengaged” due to mental illness.

Training in child social and emotional development should be a professional requirement for all teachers, the report said, and a dedicated senior teacher should be added to the staff of every school to oversee students’ mental health and wellbeing and maintain links to local services.

A lack of stable housing for people with severe mental illness should be addressed through investment that would “reduce their future need for higher cost mental health inpatient services”.

People with mental illness should be helped to “reconnect” into workplaces through “individual placement and support programs”, subject to “evaluation and monitoring”.

Mental health should be “explicitly included in workplace health and safety” codes of practice and no-liability clinical treatment provided for mental health-related workers compensation claimants.

For help in Australia

Salvation Army Care Line     1300 36 36 22

Reach Out

Headspace     Register and chat now at eheadspace, or call 1800 650 890  Headspace

Lifeline    13 11 14

Mensline Australia 1300 78 99 78 (24 hour phone counselling and referral)

Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36

Mates in Construction: 1300 642 111

QLife        1800 184 527    Phone & Chat  3.00 pm – 12.00 pm everyday

SANE Australia help

SANE Australia Helpline  Chat –  Talk to a mental health professional (weekdays, 10 am-10 pm Australian Eastern Standard Time) 1800 187 263

Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800 (24 hour phone counselling)

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 (Professional call back service referral line operates seven days a week)

Veterans Line 1800 011 046 (after hours professional telephone crisis counselling for veterans and their families

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