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April 25, 2011

One of the greatest challenges facing East Gippsland is prevention and treatment of people with mental health issues.

The alarming incidence of mental health problems, particularly among younger people, is exacerbated in regional areas where it is more difficult to access specialised assistance.

Too many people suffer without proper diagnosis and treatment while their families and friends do their best to help but lack the experience and professional skills to fully assist their loved ones.

While there has been a great deal of effort to reduce the stigma of mental health issues, we still have a long way to improve our understanding as a community.

Mental health conditions are just as debilitating as physical health issues but there are the added pressures of embarrassment and a tendency to ‘hide’ the condition from others.

This week’s policy announcement by the Federal Coalition is a step in the right direction and I hope that the Gillard Government is paying attention.

Under our policy initiatives, $180 million would be spent on improving existing employment services for people with serious mental health problems and a further $150 million on boosting the outside services that job agencies could deploy for interventions on behalf of their clients.

An additional $40 million would be spent establishing a national mental health research centre and a further $20 million to establish a national mental health workforce training institute.

A Coalition government would install a dedicated Minister for Mental Health and bring all mental health services under the umbrella of one department.

A mental health commission would also be established to provide expert advice to the Minister as well as championing mental health issues and improving outcomes for patients.

Mental illness will in some way impact on almost half the Australian population over a lifetime. After heart disease and cancer, mental illness is Australia’s most prevalent health problem and as a nation we must do more to address it.

Even in a time of tight budgetary constraints, we simply can’t afford to not increase our commitment to dealing with mental health issues. Too many lives are at stake.