Federal Election 2019: Meet the Australian Mental Health Party


Website: https://www.amhp.org.au
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheAustralianMentalHealthParty/
Better Minds, Inclusive Society, Smarter Economy
Themes: Policies which allow the whole person to flourish.  Centrist, but probably more left-leaning, since they are very much people before economy.  Climate change is real, and while their policies are non-specific, they evidently feel we ought to do *something*.  Very big on person-centred systems.
Upper House: QLD, WA (running as Ungrouped Independents in both states)
Preferences: In both states, the AMHP has preferenced only candidates from the Greens, Labor and the LNP, but rather idiosyncratically ordered.  According to their website ‘Based on our analysis and debate within the party, we think these candidates will best represent good policy on mental health and well-being.’

So in WA, their first two preferences are Greens candidates with strong disability advocacy cred, and their first Labor candidate is a Yawaru man from Broome who advocates for constructive relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.  Their first Liberal Party candidate is Trish Botha, who is fourth on the Liberal ticket, and an evangelical pastor.

In QLD, they preference Tania Major, a Kokoberra woman and an Aboriginal activist, and the fourth ranked candidate on the Labor ticket, followed by Paul Scarr, from the moderate wing of the Liberal Party, then Frank Gilbert of Labor, who I suspect was chosen for his experience working at Lifeline, and Nicole Tobin of the Liberal Party, who is an advocate for special needs children.

Essentially, it looks to me as though the AMHP takes the view that they don’t really care about your other political leanings, provided you are committed to disability and/or mental health advocacy.  I’m a bit concerned about the evangelical pastor, however, because some evangelical churches are extremely poor at dealing with mental health issues.

Previous reviews

Policies & Commentary

The AMHP’s front page is fairly simple.  They have a banner that rotates between trying to recruit you for the party and trying to get you to sign a petition for a standard rate of support for psychological care.  They then move swiftly on to their key policies, which are:

  • Smarter economy
  • A caring health system
  • Education made for people

We will return to these in a tick, because it turns out to make more sense and be less repetitive if we look at their six ‘ driving principles’ first.

First, we have Thinking Bigger, which is about viewing mental health not as a medical / mental illness matter, but about keeping people mentally healthy in the first place.  They provide bullet points in a number of areas including: schools should have access to psychologists, and there should be nationally consistent principles across schools about healthy relationships and management of emotions; fix Centrelink so that it is more flexible and person-oriented and has better support for people with mental health issues; treating substance abuse as a health and social issue; more resources for mental health in rural areas, indigenous communities; a focus on men’s mental health (including programs directing issues relating to male depression, anxiety, anger and violence); better housing support; a focus on mental health for veterans and their family members, and for first responders; and more art therapy programs.

These bullet points are designed not to be comprehensive policies, but rather to give voters a sense of the sort of legislation the AMHP would support if elected.

Second, and this should surprise nobody, the AMHP wants you to know that mental health is an investment.

Our party sees the minds of Australian people as our number one asset. A mentally healthy society helps people reach their potential, make the most of life, and strive for a better future. Years of neglect to mental health care in Australia are weighing us down.

They point out that mental health conditions are the third largest cause of years of lost life after cancer and heart disease, and that they are significantly underfunded in relation to these illnesses.

Third, the AMHP wants no discrimination at school, and are concerned about plans to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to allow religious schools more freedom to discriminate.

We believe it is unacceptable to exclude people based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or relationship status. In our view, both students and teachers deserve appropriate protections from discrimination.

They also point out that discrimination is a cause of mental health issues.

Fourth, the AMHP wants us to have more meaningful lives and to reach our potential, and it’s lovely enough that I’m going to quote a big chunk of it:

We’d like to see a society where the notion of ‘a fair go’ is not simply about the competitive forces of a free-market economy, or addressing conflict between classes in society… To us, the idea of a fair go is about recognising the value of all people who live in our society.

If elected, we will push for policies that strengthen the efforts of people to improve their lives. Our party will look at the systems which affect people as they go from one stage of life to the next – from childhood, to youth, and adulthood; from living alone to starting a family; from working life to retirement, finding purpose and meaning in later age. We will develop constructive policies to better manage the transitions people face between the major institutions of society. These transitions begin with providing safety for children around their adjustments between school, home life, and interactions with wider society. We will support veterans to adjust back to civilian life. We will push for better management of people when they are released from prison, to assist in that critical early period of adjustment, to help them start making a positive contribution to our society. Importantly, we will also develop policies which help people move from hospital-based care back to living in the community again.

When people find a better way of living and feel valued for their contributions, it not only helps them personally, but it ultimately makes our whole society better.

Fifth, the AMHP has the environment in mind.  Specifically, they are impressed by the commitment of children striking for climate change, and they are unimpressed by the major parties who are having a go at young people for speaking up.  Also, they think that ‘you’d have to be completely out of your mind not to care about climate change’, so while they don’t really have an environment policy, I think we can feel reasonably confident that they support action on this score.

Finally, we have ‘Accessing enough help’.

Our party wants policy to be based on good evidence. In mental health care, the government lags behind in a few critical areas. One of those is areas is Australia’s reliance on programs where people can access a fixed upper limit of appointments. That’s fine if you don’t need more than the upper limit, but what about those who do need more care? Unfortunately in programs like Medicare, those people just get cut off from therapy abruptly. If they can’t afford to cover the cost, they are on their own.

While they don’t want Australia to pay for more therapy than we actually need, they are concerned that we are cutting people off too early, and they remind us that the purpose of Medicare and related systems is

to keep people as healthy, functional, and as productive as possible, so we can all contribute to our society. In a system like Medicare, it makes sense to allow people the flexibility to access more care than they might need, because it doesn’t cost the taxpayer any additional expense beyond the actual cost of services people use. That is, once a person stops accessing therapy there is no further cost.

In other words, they would rather pay a little bit more than they need to in some cases if it means that others don’t fall through the cracks.  I absolutely support this approach, particularly in the area of mental health, which is terribly under-resourced.

Back to the principles, where we learn that the AMHP believes in a ‘person-centred economy’.

In our view, a good economy encourages all people to participate at their very best. Our vision is a society where people are better able to connect, take up opportunities, and interact with the world around them. We believe Australia can find better ways to encourage people to reach their full potential. An optimal society is inclusive, diverse, and ready to embrace the challenges of living.

To achieve this, they want to streamline the tax system, ensure that large corporations pay their share of tax, and raise the rate of Newstart.

Assisting people in that way will improve their prospects of finding work and help reduce the rate of disadvantage, which left in neglect, tends to end up costing us far more in the long run. A population who are empowered to lift themselves out of disadvantage can better develop their skills and abilities, take up good opportunities as they arise, and contribute more to their community.

That is some pleasingly clear thinking which I wish our major parties would listen to.  If people are forced to spend all their energy just on surviving, they are not well placed to seek employment or indeed, find other ways to improve their lives.  The overall goal here is to invest in the well-being of people.  I approve.

Under a Caring Health System, they have quite a bit to say, but their starting point is a person-centred health care system.

When we connect to health care, it’s usually in a state of concern, discomfort, or distress. A well-designed health system would ideally respond in a sensitive way to people, adapting to reflect the needs of consumers. Right now, Australia needs a more caring approach to health care. There’s a multitude of different ways we might improve Australia’s health system based on person-centred principles. It’s not just about the way health professionals engage with people in the system, but rather, how we design the structure of services and the way those services connect together.

And then we have a LOT of bullet points, which I will try to summarise usefully.  Under Better Hospital Care, they want to properly support the transition from hospital back to community, including:

  • Connecting people to accommodation support if needed at discharge;
  • Dedicated support workers at all hospitals to bridge adjustment to community based care and link people to meaningful follow up care;
  • Access to tailored suicide prevention programs following psychiatric hospital discharge, to address elevated risk of suicide in the first three months.

I am all about this – I’ve seen far too many occasions where friends have been discharged from hospital at some odd hour with no plan to get them home (not everyone can afford a taxi), or plan for how they will cope once they are at home with no nursing support and no family to look after them.  We definitely need to do better at this, particularly for people who live alone.

Obviously, they want to make sure there is more funding for mental health care, and that it actually goes to mental health care.  They want to reduce involuntary treatment, seclusion and restraint, which I’m honestly ambivalent about.  I had a friend who kept checking himself out of involuntary treatment, deciding he didn’t need his meds, and doing incredibly dangerous things.  Eventually, one of those things killed him, and it was only by very good fortune that it didn’t kill others as well.  In an ideal world, we’d be so good at mental health that we could convince people to stay in treatment.  In the one we have, there is, unfortunately, a place for involuntary treatment.

On the other hand, I am 100% in favour of ‘policies to assist families, loved ones, and carers around the appropriate care of people in psychiatric settings’.  ‘Care in the community’ got people out of institutions, which was overall a good thing, but it placed an enormous burden on families which was never really acknowledged or supported.  I used to volunteer at a counselling/suicide helpline, and I remember so many calls from terrified family members who could see that their loved ones were approaching a crisis point, but couldn’t get any help until the crisis had actually happened.  We need to do a lot more here.

The AMHP wants to increase bulk billing, and to close the gab for Aboriginal health and mental health.  They want more mental health appointments, as detailed above, and access to a wider range of evidence-based therapies.  They want private health insurance to have mandated standards for mental health care coverage, and they want to ‘address the discriminatory insurance restrictions relating to income protection, travel insurance, life insurance, and general restrictions relating to mental health’.

The AMHP is not impressed with the way MyHealth records has been rolled out, and are particularly concerned about security and confidentiality.

On drugs and alcohol, the AMHP supports harm reduction frameworks, and wants to make drug rehab services more accessible.  And they want to make e-cigarettes prescription free, because they feel it will make it easier for people to quit smoking.

On medical research, they have this to say:

The Australian Government has gradually increased the funding for medical and mental health research over the years, but the implementation of scientific research is only as good as the policies set by our political leaders. Our health system is often designed based on the opinions of a selected group of experts or the views of dominant professional organisations. As caring and intelligent as health experts usually are, that way of designing policy tends to result in systems which serve the interests of health providers rather than patients. Australia needs to implement policies based on the best knowledge we have from research and consistent feedback we hear from people who access services. Our priority is to make sure that good research translates into good practice.

They want to ensure that research funding reflects the magnitude of the real world issues.  First, the NHMRC’s research priorities do tend to address this.  But I’m honestly a bit ambivalent about this, because people with rare diseases can be really neglected under such a model.  My personal policy would be to quarantine a certain amount of funding specifically for rare diseases, because we need to address them too… and often the lessons learned from a rare disease will be applicable to a less rare one…

They also want more research into screening for suicide risks and mental health issues, as well as into developing appropriate systems to help vulnerable populations.

The AMHP wants to improve primary health care networks, and make them more functional and more efficient.  As noted above, they want to improve men’s health and mental health.

They want a positive and proactive approach to Aboriginal mental health care, which includes the impact of racism.  Again, they want more early intervention, prevention and screening, and the development of programs to help Aboriginal people to build and maintain positive interpersonal relationships.  They believe that ’empowerment and personal autonomy as the cornerstone of person-centred care’, and acknowledge that ‘programs which restrict or control Aboriginal people and communities from the outside often make things worse, leading people to experience a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, and despair’.

Finally, for rural Australia, they want to incentivise health professionals to move to communities in need, and come up with measures to make it easier for local mental health workers to stay in their communities.  They feel that community connection is key, so they are against mandatory placement of health professionals in regional Australia.  Instead, they would rather come up with ways to encourage those who are from regional Australia and interested in working in mental health to return home after training.

Our party believes the priority must be on connection and wherever possible making sure that connection is real, personal, and from one human being to another. Internet and app-based self-help are useful, but they are not for all situations or every person.

Under Educational Reforms, we begin with the following vision statement:

Our vision is for a comprehensive education for every Australian. In addition to teaching us about the world, a good education helps us reach our full potential, leads us to being well-informed and engaged citizens, helps us to understand how we might live a physically and mentally healthy life, and gives people a stronger sense of belonging. Australia’s current national focus on performance-based benchmarks can do more harm than good, putting needless stress and pressure on young people, which has the unfortunate and paradoxical effect of being detrimental to learning. Our party will keep the focus on providing equitable access to quality education, creating healthy and supportive places of learning which aim to bring out the best in people.

To achieve this, they want more funding for public schools, and programs that supporting the mental health of staff and students in schools.  They want access to quality pre-school education, and they want to change the school chaplaincy program so that schools may choose a secular support worker if that  is their preference.  They also want better resourcing for school counsellors, psychologists, social workers and nurses.

On curriculum, the AMHP believes that mental health and well-being should be a much larger part of the curriculum.

Helping young people to learn about how to manage emotions, build healthy relationships, identify mental health problems, and seek appropriate help when required has enormous potential to support positive mental health later on in life. 

And teacher training should include self-care, positive coping skills, and building resilience, with similar programs for staff and students at Universities.

The AMHP believes that learning needs to take place in a ‘safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment for all’, and they want to ‘build connection across cultural and linguistic diversity’, including the needs of ATSI and LGBTI students.

Safe Schools isn’t mentioned here, either positively or negatively, so make of that what you will.  They seem pretty committed to diversity and inclusion, so I’m inclined to suspect that they wanted to keep their policies around LGBTQIA kids and healthy relationships generic enough that they wouldn’t have to have that particular fight just now.

And that’s it!  Overall, the AMHP strike me as kind, thoughtful, caring people who probably deserve your vote if you live in an electorate where they are running.  I would note that for all their focus on Men’s Health and on healthy relationships, it would be nice to see a specific focus on mental health for survivors of family violence, and I wouldn’t mind seeing both LGBTQIA+ mental health and women’s health also being classed as priorities. But I’m pretty keen on their worldview overall.  I feel our Parliament could only be improved by the addition of one or two AMHP members.

Eurovision Theme Song as determined by me, very objectively

There are a few Eurovision songs about depression, but they all make me want to cry, and I couldn’t quite cope with that at this hour of the morning and this close to a funding deadline.  But Kate Miller-Heidke’s song for Eurovision this year is apparently about overcoming depression which strikes me as an excellent fit, and also just better for my own mental health.  Which seems like something the AMHP would care about.

Also, it’s a really good song.

Hey you
Stone in my shoe
I’ve been aching
Feeling low
You’re so heavy
I have got to let you go
I’m going where there’s zero

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