02 August 2023

Insight from: Robbie Sefton

When Professor Patrick McGorry – the internationally-renowned psychiatrist who has advocated tirelessly on youth mental health and was Australian of the Year in 2010 for his work in this area – warns we are not doing enough for young Australians with mental health issues, we need to listen.

Professor McGorry has co-authored a paper on the current situation, and what we need to do to turn this “public health crisis” around. I have had the pleasure of knowing Professor McGorry since my time on the National Australia Day Council and now serve with him on the board of headspace, the Australian not-for-profit organisation for youth mental health that he helped establish in 2006.

I have come to know him as an authoritative and measured voice on this subject, someone who relies on the facts at hand to drive home his message, but who also has a passion for improving the plight of young people struggling with mental health issues that are too often going undiagnosed and untreated in this current environment. So, when he and his co-authors on this paper say, “the mental health of young Australians is rapidly declining”, it should be ringing alarm bells for policy makers and communities right across the country.

It’s not that some ground hasn’t been made on this issue – the fact we’re seeing it more and more in the media, on our social feeds, in the TV shows and movies we watch says to me that at least there’s more awareness of what’s become a chronic health problem. Individuals – some of them quite high profile – are now speaking publicly about their struggles without the fear of ridicule, as would have been the case in the past.

But while awareness is a big first step, the current responses and support structures we have in place are not adequately addressing the challenges around accurate diagnoses and treatment. I am proud of the fact headspace is playing some part in recognising mental health struggles, and supporting these young people as best it can, and the fact the headspace network is so prevalent across rural and regional Australia is so welcome, when mental health services are often far harder to find, and then access, in the bush.

But even Professor McGorry, who was instrumental in initiating the establishment of headspace, concedes it’s now time for the service to be overhauled from a funding and design perspective. So big has the issue become, that it’s no longer keeping pace with the needs of the young people who are seeking assistance, and the sheer number of youth coming through its doors.

The authors of this paper look at every aspect of the current situation, from better integration between services, improved funding models, the shortcomings of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) when it comes to mental health, an increased focus on prevention and early intervention, improved treatment and support models … to name a few. It’s a comprehensive article with so many insights and recommendations for a way forward.  

Despite the erosive effect of mental illness, public pressure and, consequently, the political will for a response, in proportion to the scale and urgency of the crisis, are yet to materialise,” write Professor McGorry and his fellow authors. Continuing on this same path is not an option at this point. It’s costing our nation so much on so many levels and compromising our greatest resource: our youth. 

To read this article in The Land newspaper, visit https://www.theland.com.au/story/8290085/youth-public-health-crisis-needs-to-be-addressed/?cs=5739