A Speech by, Darren Churchill, candidate for Ginninderra to launch the ACT Democrats Mental Health Policy at the Mental Health Week Community Forum, 12.30pm, 08 October, 2008.

A Speech by, Darren Churchill, candidate for Ginninderra to launch the ACT Democrats Mental Health Policy at the Mental Health Week Community Forum, 12.30pm, 08 October, 2008.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Darren Churchill, president of the ACT Democrats and Ungrouped candidate for Ginninderra.

The ACT Democrats recognise that demand for mental health services in the ACT is increasing. We understand that good mental health is just as important for the ACT community as good physical health. We support increased resources for preventative programmes and early intervention to prevent chronic mental health problems developing.

People with mental illness remain among the most disadvantaged, neglected and marginalised people in Australia. Up to 1 in 4 Australians will suffer from a mental illness during their lifetime. Many of us here today may have suffered mental illness or had a friend, family member or even party colleague who has suffered a mental illness, especially depression.

Mental health problems have a profound effect on the physical, emotional, social and financial well being of people with mental illness, as well as their family and friends. Mental health issues also have multiple effects on our community, including higher absenteeism at work, more personal stress and unhappiness, and a more fragmented community. Mental health concerns need to be brought into the public spotlight, with more resources and attention paid to preventing future deterioration in the mental health of the Canberra community.

The best way to prevent mental illness from becoming chronic is to provide intensive support for people living with a mental illness at the first onset of problems, so further mental deterioration is prevented and people are assisted to become well and stay well into the future. More subsidised counselling needs to be made available.
We recognise that stable housing is essential to maintaining good mental health, and support the priority allocation of public housing with support for people who have experienced mental illness.

The ACT Democrats have a good record of achievement on mental health. In the 5th Assembly, the Democrats successfully moved a motion calling on the ACT Government to increase the number of mental health outreach workers. We also successfully moved a motion in that Assembly that uniformed police officers and marked cars should not be used to escort mentally ill people to hospital for assessment. We have always campaigned strongly for greater resources for suicide prevention, including raising the media profile and giving talks on the issue.

The ACT Democrats want more spending on community education about mental illness, to reduce the discrimination experienced by people with mental health issues. We support a greater range of treatment options, including more supported settings outside hospital, and better access to subsidised counselling to complement drug therapy.

The ACT Democrats support additional suicide prevention programs to reduce the ACT suicide rate, which is still alarmingly high. The ACT Democrats believe that more can be done to increase employment of people with mental illnesses, particularly by opening up access to ACT public sector positions.

The ACT Democrats support school-based programmes that help young people learn about mental illness, and about strategies to maintain a positive and stable outlook. We support education about the link between illicit drug use and potential mental illness, so young people better understand the risks to themselves and their friends.

The Rate of Youth Suicide in the ACT has risen drastically in the past two decades. The ACT Democrats believe that suicide prevention programmes and adolescent mental health services need an immediate injection of funds, and that we need an adolescent in-patient facility for young people. Having one Calvary Hospital was suggested by one of the earlier speakers – and we would support that.

The ACT Democrats recognise that one of the biggest hurdles to improving identification and treatment of mental illness is removing the stigma attached to having a mental illness. The ACT Democrats believe that mental illness is like any other illness, and this idea needs to be promoted more widely throughout the community. People and families should not feel ashamed of mental health problems, nor feel that they have to hide their problems, as this reduces the likelihood of seeking and continuing appropriate treatment.

The ACT Democrats believe that more needs to be done to educate professionals and the public about mental illness. The Democrats advocate additional programmes to inform professionals about mental health issues, in particular health professionals, police officers, educators and employers. We support an increase in wider public education campaigns such as Mental Health Weeks and awareness raising initiatives to increase public awareness and understanding of mental health problems in our community.

The ACT Democrats continue to be concerned about people with mental illnesses getting caught up in the court system, when the acts they were arrested for were done as a result of their illness. We need to look at how we determine whether or not a person is well enough to face trial and determine fitness to plead. This was also mentioned by one of the earlier speakers and we share their concerns.

We believe that the treatment of mentally ill people who come into contact with the police and judicial system can be considerably improved. Our police do a great job but the Democrats believe that police officers should receive special training to work with people with mental illnesses, so they better deal with transporting or assisting people who are acutely ill. There was a story on Stateline last Friday night that raised concerns about this very matter. I’m sure there are some people here today who may have seen that particular story. We believe that Police transporting people for assessment should not be uniformed and should be using unmarked cars.

The ACT Democrats recognise that patients respond differently to treatment for mental health problems, and that the ACT Government has a responsibility to provide a range of treatment options in order to ensure each individual is catered for. More attention needs to be paid to the variety of mental illnesses that need to be catered for, including personality disorder. The ACT Democrats believe a wider range of supportive environments needs to be provided to assist in recovery. In addition to hospital care and long-term care, suitable short and medium-term accommodation with appropriate support is required.

The Democrats recognise the role of carers, and will work to ensure that carers are appropriately consulted and involved in patient care and are given support where they are assisting in treatment.

The ACT Democrats call for additional resources for dual diagnosis and dual disability services. The Democrats recognise that some mental health conditions may have considerable overlap with substance abuse, and diagnosis and treatment must address both issues simultaneously. Similarly, Governments need to recognise the existence of dual disabilities, and provide adequate information and resources to
address these needs.

We recognise the work of Mental Health professionals, especially community organisations that provide counselling, such as the Salvation Army, Centacare and Community Centres. There is a great need for extra services to cope with the demand.

Access to Mental Health support services is just as important inside the new ACT prison as in the wider community (in some ways even more important). These services also include access to mental health professionals, improving access to treatment (medication and counselling), and suicide prevention.

The Democrats also recognise that turnover amongst Mental Health professionals is extremely high. People can burn out pretty quickly. Retention is higher when the organisation provides clinical supervision and good opportunities for professional development and we will support and encourage this and would like to see greater resources directed towards such ends.

The ACT Democrats Mental Health Policy will be available on our website http://www.act.democrats.org.au within the next twenty-four hours. I invite you to have a look at it.

Thank you.

(This is the a version of a speech given by Darren Churchill to launch ACT Democrats Mental Health Policy at the Mental Health Week Community Forum. It may vary from the actual presentation, which was given largely from notes and varied to fit in with time constraints).

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