Productivity Commission recommends preschool mental health focus as part of reforms

Productivity Commission recommends preschool mental health focus as part of reforms

by Freya Lucas

October 31, 2019

Mental ill-health and suicide cost Australia nearly $500 million per day – these are the findings of a draft report issued by the Productivity Commission, which estimates that mental ill-health and suicide are costing Australia up to $180 billion per year, and treatment and services are not meeting community expectations.

 

A core component in reducing this spend, the Commission found, is consistent screening of social and emotional development which should be included in existing early childhood physical development checks to enable early intervention.

 

Chair of the Productivity Commission, Michael Brennan, noted that 75 per cent of those who develop mental illness first experience symptoms before they turn 25, and mental ill-health in critical schooling and employment years has long lasting effects for “not only your job prospects but many aspects of your life. Getting help early is key to prevention and better outcomes.” 

 

Looking into the education space more broadly, the Commission also recommends that educators in all settings “should be adequately equipped to support children’s social and emotional wellbeing” through: 

  • inclusion of training on child social and emotional development in professional requirements for all teachers; 
  • proactive outreach services for children disengaged with school because of mental illness; and, 
  • provision in all schools of an additional senior teacher dedicated to the mental health and wellbeing of students and maintaining links to mental health support services in the local community.

In addition to the education specific recommendations, the authors also made a case for reform in four other key areas, namely; 

  • Closing critical gaps in healthcare services
  • Investment in services beyond health
  • Assistance for people with mental illness to get into work and enable early treatment of work-related mental illness
  • Fundamental reform to care coordination, governance and funding arrangements. 

 

These changes, the Commission said, should be underpinned by a new intergovernmental National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement.

 

Too many people avoid treatment because of stigma, and too many people fall through gaps in the system because the services they need are not available or suitable, Productivity Commissioner Stephen King said.

 

Changing this reality is not simply the domain of the health system, but also the structures of society such as early childhood settings, schools, workplaces, housing and the justice system, the report notes.

 

“While full scale change will take a long time, there are many changes that governments can start now,” Mr Brennan added.

 

The Productivity Commission’s draft report on mental health can be found here, where submissions for the final report are currently being taken. The final report is expected to be handed to the Australian Government by May 2020.

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