I rise to take note of the Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention's final report. The committee was tasked with providing recommendations, based on a number of reports that have been released over the last three years, and providing a road map for improvements to reduce suicide and the suffering that mental ill health causes our community.
As we've all experienced in the last two years, Australia has been presented with many events both here and overseas that have challenged our normal way of life and caused stresses to many. The horrific fires of 2019 touched all Australians, with many losing their homes and livelihoods, and, just as people were getting back on their feet, many states in Australia were flooded. Since 2020, we have all endured the COVID-19 outbreak. COVID, through the necessity to keep us safe, has taken away what humans really crave the most—the support of family and friends. This was, of course, for the best of reasons, but it has increased the incredible stress on many Australians and the mental health system that supports them. Extended lockdowns have meant people have been touched by isolation. They've missed significant events with their families and friends, exacerbating the fear of the unknown, and that has affected every corner of the earth.
The 2020 productivity report, the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System and various other investigations into Australia's mental health provisions have highlighted that the system is suffering from unaffordable access for all Australians who need support for their mental health. Issues with your mental health can affect every part of your life, including your relationships and physical health. It can affect a person's capacity to care for themselves and others and hinder a person's capability of participating in social and family events. Approximately one in five Australians and nearly half of all adults will experience some sort of mental or behavioural condition in their lifetime. It can be episodic, acute or chronic.
It is clear from the evidence the committee heard that early intervention and proper evidence based support is what can make a difference in people's lives and ensure they are able to improve their mental health as soon as possible. The committee heard that, although advances have been made with respect to many conditions, misunderstanding and stigmatisation are still a problem for many people, and this stigma leads to deferred action and can lengthen the time that someone is unwell.
The final report released by this committee proposes evidence based recommendations that will steer our approach to mental health in the right direction. It shows there is a need for a big-picture approach to mental health in Australia to account for the long-term effects of the pandemic. I see it in my community, where rates of mental ill health are skyrocketing, without appropriate services to deal with them.
The Pulse of South West Sydney CALD communities: amplifying voices during COVID-19 report, which was recently released by the Western Sydney Migrant Resource Centre, found the impact on mental health was the biggest issue across diverse backgrounds. This is also a feeling among diverse communities across the country. This is why the committee recommended that the Commonwealth fund training resources for the mental health workforce to provide culturally appropriate and sensitive services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, CALD communities and gender-diverse individuals.
Time and again during the hearings we were told about the lack of appropriate services to support those who were struggling. Teenagers are waiting months for support in a time of unprecedented stress. For two consecutive years, year 12s came in and out of online learning with an HSC around the corner. This is an exam that in the best of circumstances can cause extreme stress for its participants.
We also heard in successive hearings about the severe lack of services in regional and remote areas. There needs to be decisive and comprehensive action to address issues in this sector. Professor Ian Hickie said that the mental health system should provide the right care first time. He believes that governments need to model in advance what the outcomes of our system should be, who needs to be involved in the service delivery and how best that can be achieved moving forward. Professor Hickie put to the committee that modelling has shown that, if all these things are agreed upon around Australia, we could spend approximately $14 billion a year on mental health. If we don't make these decisions and continue a business-as-usual approach, we will see Australians spending $22 billion a year on a system that is still not functioning efficiently.
All the evidence the committee heard pointed to workforce shortages and overwork of those professionals in the system. At times in some communities, especially in our outer suburbs and regional and remote areas, there are long waiting lists. Improvements in mental health are best achieved with timely support and appropriate medical assessment and interventions by, in many cases, multidisciplinary teams. We need more psychologists in schools, better access to professionals, affordable services, the expansion of digital services, and funding for regional and remote services and for culturally appropriate support for CALD and First Nations citizens.
The committee recommended the Commonwealth invest in research to determine the long-term impacts of trauma and how it is being compounded by successive natural disasters. Any decisions that are made require data to ensure that plans are made properly and that limited resources are being used efficiently to make a difference.
The committee also recommended that accessibility be at the forefront of all policymaking. This recommendation, along with the investment to determine the long-term impacts of trauma, will go far in identifying mental ill health in Australia. Identifying the causes and being aware of these causes is a fundamental step in the process of mental health and suicide prevention. The inclusion by the Department of Health and the National Mental Health Workforce Strategy Taskforce of national standards of suicide prevention training for all health and allied health professionals in the National Mental Health Workforce Strategy is one recommendation which will have a positive blanket effect on mental health and suicide prevention.
The committee recommended that more work should be done in schools to combat mental ill health. This includes an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of all existing programs supporting the wellbeing of students in schools. Increasing the number of psychologists in schools will have a huge impact on the outcome of these programs. Also, training teachers in wellbeing and mental health support is essential for positive outcomes. Teachers need to be prepared to respond appropriately if a student reaches out for help.
Throughout the hearings we also heard about the importance of IT coordinated care. Professor Hickie urged that receiving the right care first time is crucial. He argued for the widespread adoption of smart healthcare technologies. They could easily be developed to support a wide range of organisations. Australia is a leader in mental healthcare innovation, but we lack the fundamental IT backing that can improve support across the sector. Access to the NBN and to telehealth is a problem throughout Australia, but particularly in regional areas, and there is also a lack of face-to-face appointments with medical specialists in the community. Professor Hickie talked about the urgent need for support in regional and remote areas. He believes the system as it stands is not structured for the benefit of regional areas, and non-government organisations are doing little to help. Professor Hickie also advocated for regionalisation, which means cooperation between federally funded primary health networks, state-run services and the non-government sector, as well as strong action from private health to address the gaps in services.
I would like now to thank everyone who took the time to make submissions and who so generously provided their expertise in hearings over the past nine months. Your insights and assistance with our questions are very much appreciated, and I hope you can see your particular information in our report. I would also like to thank the secretariat for their practical support during this inquiry. I appreciate so much their organisation of online forums when for much of the time they were also working remotely. I would like to thank my fellow committee members for their collegiate and bipartisan approach to this committee, especially the member for Macquarie; the deputy chair, the member for Dobell; and the chair, Dr Fiona Martin, the member for Reid. I'm truly grateful to all of you for assisting me to understand this area of policy formation. I commend the recommendations of the report to the House.