Budget 2019: Huge Youth Mental Health Boost In Record Budget Medical Spend

Nearly half a billion dollars will be poured into a pioneering youth mental health and suicide prevention project, as part of a large-scale federal investment in psychological wellbeing.

The Federal Budget has allocated more than $81 billion to health spending in the 2019-20 year, with big-ticket items including money toward establishing Australia’s first comprehensive children’s cancer centre, a new brain and spine ward in South Australia, a massive $725 million aged care package, and $331 million toward listing new medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

There is also a total of $737 million toward mental health, with the bulk specifically steered to a youth mental health and suicide prevention strategy, which will see new Headspace centres opened and a new suicide information initiative implemented.

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A new special advisor for suicide prevention will also be installed within the Prime Minister’s portfolio, tasked with designing services and coordinating initiatives across the whole of government, and considering how factors like finances and legal issues can exacerbate mental health concerns.

“Mental health is an issue of deep concern to all Australians,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in his budget speech on Tuesday night.

It is a national tragedy that we lose so many people to suicide and that so many people live a life of quiet desperation. Tonight I say: we hear you and we are with you.

Under a broad strategy titled ‘Prioritising Mental Health’, the government will direct $461 million to youth mental health and suicide, which Frydenberg called the “most significant” of its type ever in Australia.

Most of this will go into expanding the network of Headspace mental health centres, with $111 million to open 30 new facilities around the country and $152 million to reduce wait times and improve quality of service. Another $110 million will go toward continuing an early intervention service currently running at 14 Headspace centres, which is aimed at supporting young people in the early stages of severe mental illness.

Another $15 million is specifically directed at Indigenous suicide prevention. Of that, one-third will go to supporting Indigenous leadership to develop a culturally appropriate national plan to address suicide. Another $5 million will go to young Indigenous leaders, and $3 million to an initiative helping children affected by trauma.

“We must work together to combat youth suicide as a national priority,” Frydenberg said in his Budget speech.

“All of this is about looking after each other.”

While youth suicide has been flagged as the major priority, there is also $115 million over five years from 2020 for a trial of eight adult mental health centres, to provide free on-the-spot counselling for adults. Currently, adults who are experiencing distress may need to present at hospital emergency departments, and a key criticism of Australia’s mental health system is that Medicare only subsidises a handful of psychiatrist or psychologist visits.

In the regions specifically, also included is $23 million for helping foster long-term recovery and resilience for regional areas, alongside $2.5 million in mental health support for drought-affected farmers in Gippsland, $3 million for Queensland communities affected by floods, and $3.6 million to provide telehealth in drought-affected communities.

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Elsewhere in the mental health spend is $43.9 million over seven years for the Maternity Peer Support Program, supporting perinatal mental health as well as bereavement support; $11.5 million for the National Mental Health Workplace Initiative; and $15 million for improving data on self-harm and suicide, the lack of which has been a key criticism of mental health support organisations calling for more government action on the crisis.

Also included is $4 million for the Kids Helpline 24/7 counselling service; $1.5 million for the Raising Children Network to support young parents and children; and $2.5 million for the Smiling Minds program addressing mental health in schools.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg handing down his first Federal Budget. Image: AAP

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg poses with Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann with the 2019 Budget papers ahead of Budget 2019. Image: AAP

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Featured image: AAP