The Australian Mental Health Party is a very new party indeed – so new, that their website hasn’t entirely caught up with the fact that they have successfully registered with the AEC (congratulations, guys, you have!).
As such, they have, at this stage, a single policy statement, rather than a larger raft of policies, and they do not yet have any candidates listed. (This is where it’s a pity I’m going to be overseas for five of the next six weeks, because this post cannot really do them justice – so if you think that a single-issue mental health party might be your cup of tea, I’d strongly encourage you to visit their website again closer to the election).
The AMHP also has a Facebook page, which is more up to date, and mostly seems to collect news about how various policies affect the mental health sector. Quite a useful resource, actually.
Their website gives a brief spiel on what they are about:
The Australian Mental Health Party is a new independent political party representing the needs of people who live with a mental health condition or experience psychological distress. More broadly we aim to improve psychological and emotional well-being, to optimise human potential, to respect diversity, increase participation, and to help every person find a happier life in our society.
Alongside the needs of those who access the mental health care system, The Australian Mental Health Party draws together perspectives from family, friends, and loved ones. We also include mental health care practitioners, health professionals, communities, groups and workplaces, who all have a part to play in making our way of life mentally healthy in Australia
This looks a lot like a patient advocacy group that has turned itself into a political party. And there is nothing wrong with that, by the way, but that does seem to be the perspective they are coming from.
Their policy statement looks pretty good to me. Number one on their list is ‘treating the issue of mental health as seriously as physical health issues’, which is a really important one – as a society, we aren’t too good at understanding that mental illnesses, particularly mood disorders, are different to just feeling down, or anxious, or hyper. And as a result, there is still a stigma around mental illness, making it harder to get help, and harder to get work. I think it’s a double-whammy of being considered both less serious and more scary/weird than physical illness.
The AMHP’s policy statement is very patient-centred. Yes, they want better access to services, better funding, and better subsidisation for treatments, but there is also an emphasis on getting feedback from patients, reducing the use of involuntary treatments, and getting people with mental health issues back into the workforce. There is an emphasis on supporting carers, and both on making more inpatient beds available and ensuring that people have somewhere to go when they leave a hospital after treatment – as well as expanding the availability of community nurses. This is a huge thing, because when so many mental hospitals were shut down in the 1990s, patients were supposed to get ‘care in the community’, but nobody told the community that. Instead, families often found themselves struggling to look after people with illnesses that required, in many cases, just as much attention and more specialised training than physical illnesses.
In the next couple of paragraphs, I will be writing, briefly, about suicide in the context of mental illness. If this is something which could be harmful for you to read, please skip past this bit – I’ll put another bolded note when I’m done!
About ten years ago, I spent three years as a volunteer at a crisis line. A very large number of the clients we we dealt with had mental illnesses, and for some of them, we were the only after hours support they had – in fact, their psychiatrists or psychologists would refer them to us. For some of them, we even had ongoing treatment plans, for which we kept notes, and there were limits on how many times they could call per day or per week. And all this on twelve weeks training. We also used to receive a number of calls from both family members and mental health patients who needed support, because of a mental illness that was going into crisis mode. They could see that the problem was escalating, they knew that, while they weren’t at risk of suicide or of hurting someone else *right at that very moment* they would be soon, and that the longer they waited, the worse it would get – but because there just aren’t that many Crisis Assessment Teams around, they generally couldn’t get help until after things had gone pear shaped. And by that time, it would take much more time and effort (and, incidentally, money) to get them stabilised again – assuming that it wasn’t too late.
Because people do die of mental illness. It’s a disease that can be fatal, and this is something that we as a society really need to acknowledge.OK, I’m done now! You can read safely!
As a country, we desperately need to put more money and thought into our mental health system. As it stands, it doesn’t serve the people who need it most, and it is pretty terrible at prevention. The gaps are filled, to an extent, by charities and volunteers, and many of these are very good at what they do, but they can’t do everything. There is a significant lack of resources in this sector.
They got one thing right in the 1990s – you can’t just lock someone with a mental illness up in a hospital indefinitely and expect that to result in a good outcome. But the fear of ‘institutionalising people’ (and this is a real thing, certainly), was used as an excuse to cut costs, and these cuts are still putting lives at risk.
The Australian Mental Health Party is a single policy party, but it’s an important policy.
If you are currently suffering from mental health issues, please do talk to someone. The Mental Health Commission has a great list of resources here, but Lifeline is a good place to start, and you can reach them 24/7 on 13 11 14.