It really makes me cry. While there is mounting evidence that Australians are beset with mental health problems, governments are cutting back on programs and services that attempt to address these issues. While Rome burns we are throwing petrol at it.

An alarming snapshot of the mental health of high school students has found that one in three girls and a quarter of boys are depressed, with many turning to alcohol, drugs, sex and violence to cope. The study of 4,500 year 7 to year 12 students, conducted by Resilient Youth Australia, also revealed that 34% of girls and 30% of boys felt constantly under strain and unable to overcome difficulties. Almost 50% felt violence was an appropriate way to solves relationship issues. A third were drinking at dangerous levels, one in four lacked the confidence to say “no” to unwanted sex, while 16% felt it necessary to carry a weapon.

Child psychologists and educators say increasing numbers of children are presenting with mental disorders, such as severe anxiety, which have led to a record number of suicides. Bullying is now linked to a significant proportion of these suicides, with 25% reporting they are regularly attacked. And official figures show that between 40 and 50 percent of prisoners and up to 50% of homeless people suffer mental illness, costing billion dollars per year and causing a huge human toll. And, unfortunately, Australia leads to world. According to a Better Access study, conducted by academics led by Professor Harvey Whiteford of the University of Queensland, treatment for mental health has increased more rapidly in Australia compared to any country in the world.

Despite these findings both Federal and State governments are attempting to address their budgetary problems by slashing mental health program funding. It started with a cutback in the number of free referrals doctors could authorise for troubled patients to see a psychologist. In recent weeks, Corrective Services NSW has announced it will close a Parramatta centre for women with mental health or drug and alcohol problems. Meanwhile, the NSW Domestic Violence Review Team, established in 2010 after 43% of domestic violence deaths were not marked as such in a police database, has not met in over twelve months as they await the appointment of a convener by the State government. The team of experts spanning police, health, community and justice sectors are meant to meet for a whole day once per month to examine domestic violence deaths and make recommendations to Parliament. There are now 32 cases pending review by the panel.
Governments have cut funding for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD was first associated just with combat personnel, but research is uncovering how widespread it is. Triggering traumas include accidents, bushfires, strokes and heart attacks, surgery and being homeless. The most common causes are sexual assault, domestic violence and motor vehicle accidents. The Australian Centre for Post-traumatic Mental Health (ACPMH) estimates 800,000 Australians have PTSD, and one in 10 will suffer from it in their lifetime.
These are but a few examples of the decline in government funding support of social services that are so vital to the overall health of humanity. Mental health is on the decline, and the functionality of our society follows. As we demand that governments address the symptoms of this decline, such as alcohol and drug abuse, violence and crime, we fail to properly examine the causes. Cuts to mental health programs need to be reversed – immediately. Then our “leaders” need to acknowledge the social malaise that grips us daily, and identify any changes to our world that may alleviate the runaway worsening of our mental health. The very latest research shows that a predisposition to mental illness is genetic, but that it is environmental factors that trigger it. These factors need to be identified and addressed. For example, The Australasian Sleep Association has found that we are sleep-derived, contributing to mental and physical health problems. We are getting 90 minutes less sleep per night than 15 years ago. We are going to bed too late, rising too early, and are stressed. And, they said, people who don’t get enough sleep are less productive. Lessening the stress associated with our lifestyle should be a priority. For a start, job security must be restored. If we don’t act, it will become a never-ending downward cycle of increasing mental ill-health, more government funding cuts, followed by even more ill-health.

Of course, government cutbacks to social programs are occurring throughout the developed world. And that’s because governments everywhere are buckling under budgetary pressures. In Australia, government revenues as a proportion of GDP are at an all-time low. Over the years our social spending requirements have increased exponentially, while taxes have continually been cut. It has been politically expedient to do so, but it has been poor governance. That’s because politics works in a short-term bubble, while good management requires proper long-term planning. I find it immoral that at a time when large companies are reporting record, almost obscene, profits, our society is falling apart from the bottom up.

As for the crying thing, I have no shame. I have long said that while big boys don’t cry, real men do. And this situation warrants a tear or two.

Geoff Mooney