In this, my first Blog, I wanted to touch on 3 topical points within the mental health space. Firstly, looking at mental illness over the next 15 years and what that could look like in the future. Secondly, the potential cost of this on the Australian economy and the wider community. And thirdly, the workforce shortages across the sector and the wellbeing of our mental health professionals.

Last week I had the pleasure of catching up with Dr Jane Leigh, to discuss these issues.  Thank you, Jane, for your insight on some of the current and future challenges facing the mental health space here in Australia.     

Mental health over the next 15 years

With the World Economic Forum forecasting that over the next two decades the global cost of mental illness will exceed that of cancer, diabetes and respiratory ailments combined, should we be alarmed?  

It is estimated that 45% of all Australians will suffer a mental health problem over the course of their lives, with 75% of mental health problems first appearing before the age of 25. It is a concern that 70% of young women and 80% of young men who need help and support don’t get it, according to a report from one of Australia leading on-line mental health organizations, ReachOut?

Dr Leigh commented: 

"There is certainly justification for concern over where our Australian Mental Health Care is headed in the next 15 years. My opinion is: Based on current and past statistics, and the way society is evolving, the impact of mental illness will, unfortunately, continue to increase at an alarming rate. However, what I would like to see, being an optimistic mental health professional, is a significant improvement in the state and federal delivery systems for mental health to Australians so that fewer people (aim is for zero!) fall through the cracks in the system"

The cost of mental health on the Australian economy
Poor mental health in young people costs Australia over $6 billion per annum, including $2.5 billion in direct health costs, unemployment and disability payments. Using traditional service delivery approaches, a further $9 billion (in salaries alone) would be required over the next 15 years to double the number of people receiving help.

With the expenditure on mental health services having risen by almost 75% over the last 10 years, where are we headed, and it is sustainable?

"Once again, my opinion is that, unless our government and people unite on the mental health front and come to a mutual agreement that the increasing rate of mental illness in the coming years will take a significant toll on our Australian economy, there is little we can do. Poor mental health especially in children and young adults will come at a great cost to our society and economy.

Children are our future generation and if we cannot help them now, how are they supposed to lead us into the future? Hence, my question is: Who is willing to step up and take responsibility for addressing this issue NOW to alleviate cost of mental health on the Australia economy / wider community in the next 15 years?"  

Workforce shortages and the wellbeing of our mental health professionals 
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Australia’s current health system is robust, but alarms bells are ringing. The population is ageing and with people living longer and having more complex health care needs than they did 20 years ago, the workforce is going to be put under immense pressure. The knock-on effect could lead to reduced access to key services, longer waiting lists, deteriorating care quality, and a workforce that is both burnt out and demoralised.

As a medical recruitment business, we are seeing these skills shortages first hand. We provide a critical service to our clients who are often in desperate need of doctors and medical practitioners within the mental health space. This often involves us mobilising specialists and deploying them into communities in some of the most remote locations across Australia, for either short or long-term placements working within the community.

"What you have mentioned is already happening! The fact is that healthcare professionals (check the ABS just to confirm) have the highest burn out rate of its professionals. For example, working within the mental health sector, I have found that quite often people find it easy to “sweep” mental health issues “under the carpet”, so to speak. This is because mental illness, unlike physical illness, is not visible. Hence, if we can’t see it, it’s not there. This applies to mental health professionals too - the impact of transference, counter-transference, trauma etc. and just the mental toll of helping others - is not sufficiently addressed.

Many workplaces do not provide sufficient, if any, supervision and debriefing procedures for their workers. Hence, as time goes by, this is what we now recognise as professional burn out. Suffice to say that the well-being of mental health professionals is inter-connected with workforce shortages in a vicious cycle"

Transformation of the mental health system is likely to take a multifacted, comprehensive inter-agency approach, and possibly move at a glacial pace. However, we must push for change, the risk of not evolving and the impact on our future generations health is far too great to stand still.

Dr Leigh has over 20 years of experience in the mental health industry, is an ambassador for Beyond Blue, a lecturer at universities and a published author.

For more on Dr Leigh’s services, her book and publications, click here.

Should you be interested in hearing more about the kind opportunities we have for mental health professionals across Australia please feel free to get in touch with me on 02 9641 2492, email me directly at dean.madigan@charterhousemedical.com or visit our website www.charterhousemedical.com