Executive summary

One in two Australians will experience a mental health disorder during their lifetime. Less than half of those who do will receive appropriate support and treatment. Left untreated, mental health problems often get worse, affecting every aspect of a person’s life and creating a significant economic burden on the Australian community.

For this reason the National Mental Health Commission has called for a doubling in the proportion of the Australian population who receive “timely and appropriate mental health services and support.”

However, our projections show that if we continue with business as usual, the current mental health system will require at least 8,800 additional mental health professionals, at a cumulative cost of $9 billion to Australia (in today’s dollars) over the next fifteen years in order to be able to deliver on this objective. This presents a very significant cost-burden, which in the context of already fast-growing health costs is simply unsustainable.

It’s clear therefore that Australia urgently needs a 21st century mental health care system to respond to the growing demand for, and rising costs of service delivery. An urgent effort to reconceptualise our mental health system is required, one that looks to better promote and integrate effective and scalable self-help and peer-support interventions, thus decreasing the burden on clinical services and professionals so that they are free to assist those in greatest need. Underpinning this we must prioritise, and fund, mental health promotion and prevention to keep people mentally healthy in the first place. Only then will we experience the health and economic benefits of a 21st century system of mental health care.

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