Integrated reform takes time. But there is clearly systematic failures happening within Tasmania’s mental health and criminal justice sector that are in need of urgent action. According to the family of Joshua Barker, the state’s system failed him. He was unable to receive the help he needed at a time of crisis. The story formed just part of a national investigation led by the ABC’s Four Corners program this week. But examples of similar system failures have been long-documented by The Examiner. So what’s being done about it?
Just over a year ago Jeremy Rockliff was named the state’s first Mental Health and Wellbeing Minister. The separation of mental health from the broader health portfolio was something that was largely welcomed by stakeholders. It was recognition that in many ways, the needs associated with mental health go far beyond just medical services. In short, providing help and support for people before they become acutely unwell. However, we also need a health system that is equipped to handle demand. Yes, early intervention and prevention should be the priority, but when that fails, what safety nets and procedures are in place to ensure those who do turn up to a hospital emergency department aren’t turned away?
Mr Rockliff says the government has already begun reforming services in the state, after a report from the Mental Health Integration Taskforce was released last year. All up 21 recommendations were made and then accepted by the government. However, this was all based on the mental health system in Southern Tasmania. This was despite the government’s recognition that mental ill-health can affect anyone, at any stage of their life. This also isn’t an issue that is only being felt in Tasmania, with a productivity commission report into mental health submitted at the end of June now with the federal government. It estimated that mental ill health and suicide was costing Australia an estimate $130 billion a year – not to mention the widespread impact on families and communities.
With the increasing pressure of the pandemic we need to take care of the mental health of our community and immediately resolve gaps in the system.