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Mental Health Care in Australia in the 21st Century 'Out of Sight, Out of Mind'

AMA Vice President, Dr Choong-Siew Yong, said today that the Not For Service report into Australia's mental health care system reveals a sad story of inactivity, poor planning, under-funding and under-resourcing by all Australian governments in the face of one of the biggest health challenges facing the nation in the 21st century - mental health care.

Dr Yong, a psychiatrist, said the report presents a Dickensian picture of 'out of sight, out of mind' when it comes to caring for people with mental illness.

"It is a case of governments shifting blame and responsibility and ultimately failing a very large number of vulnerable Australians and their families and carers at a time when mental illness has one of the highest burdens of any disease," Dr Yong said.

"Mental health policy needs national leadership from the Federal Government and a unity of purpose from the States and Territories.

"At a time when demand for quality mental health services is at its highest, our national commitment to the mental health sector is frighteningly inadequate and fragmented.

"We need to improve access to appropriate care for people suffering mental illness.

"We need to expand community services and provide more psychiatric beds, we need more psychiatrists and nurses and carers, and we need greater funding from all levels of government. Patients need access to aftercare and housing and better access to GPs.

"While the Federal Government has recognised the problem and started to improve funding, services and programs, much more needs to be done, especially for children and young people if we are to slow down the increase of mental health disorders in Australia," Dr Yong said.

Mental health disorders are on the rise in Australia:

  • One in five Australians aged over 18 currently meet the criteria of suffering from some form of mental illness
  • By 2013, over 100,000 people will be affected by bipolar disorder, an increase of 6 per cent
  • By 2011, we'll see a 10 per cent rise to 41,000 in the number of people with schizophrenia
  • Dementia and depression are major issues for Australia's ageing population
  • By 2050, around 730,000 Australians will be affected by dementia.

The AMA Submission to the Senate Select Committee On Mental Health, April 2005, contains a raft of AMA recommendations to improve mental health care in Australia, and is available on the AMA website at www.ama.com.au

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