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More than feeling blue

Mental health conditions affect Australians at an alarming rate, but what is being done about it?

Mental health issues can occur for a number of different reasons, and as such there are a number of different ways to treat them.

The most common treatments for mental health issues are psychological therapy and medication.

According to the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare (AIHW), $9 billion was spent on mental health-related services in Australia during 2015-16, an increase of almost $500 million compared to 2011-12.

The AIHW also reports that four million people received mental health-related prescriptions in 2016-17. In research for his book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression, author Johann Hari found that Australia has the second highest rate of anti-depressant use in the world after Iceland.

He found that, since 2000, the rate of anti-depressant use has almost doubled and nearly one in 10 Australians are taking them.

A recent study lead by Andrea Cipriani of the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre in the UK compared 21 different anti-depressants and their effect on adults with major depressive disorders. The study found that 60 per cent of people respond with about a 50 per cent reduction in their symptoms within two months, but 80 per cent of people stop taking them within a month.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a mental health treatment that focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful cognitive behaviours and thoughts, and has the same success rate as anti-depressants, with no side-effects at all compared to the several that are associated with the drugs.

Lack of funding for mental health issues in Australia has been a major contributor. In their 2018 Executive Summary for Mental Health, a position statement, the Australian Medical Association said:

Mental health and psychiatric care is grossly underfunded when compared to physical health. The extent of mental health conditions in the community is extensive, with almost a majority of adult Australians experiencing a mental health condition in their lifetime. Some of these have significantly worse levels of morbidity, or premature mortality, than the general population. Yet this sector receives less than half the funding of the comparable burden of disease funding.

The Australian government realised this and allocated a $338 million increase to mental health funding in this year’s budget. Despite it being a fraction of the $2.2 billion that was allocated in the 2011-12 budget, it is still a substantial funding boost.

Lifeline Australia received $33 million to improve the infrastructure and digital platforms where they operate their services. Beyondblue received $37 million for an after-care service that helps people most at risk of suicide. The most funding was given to the new Million Minds Mission (MMM) project.

The Million Minds Mission was allocated $125 million over the next 10 years. According to the Australian Government Department of Health website, the purpose of the MMM is to support one million people to access new approaches to diagnosis, treatment and recovery for mental health conditions.

The program will support research that addresses key national health priorities and ensure mental health research is put into practice, giving all Australians access to better mental health care.

This new program can only help the many Australians that suffer from mental health issues and will, it is hoped,  encourage the government to continue and further their support in the fight against mental health conditions. – @ThomasTobler1

For help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.