It is said that change is inevitable.
Despite our reluctance towards change, we can’t escape it. Moving forward and upwards. However, change can happen too fast or not fast enough. As an individual, a family, a friend or a community there are countless people that put there hand up to assist those that are struggling. Professionals in mental health care today are faced with a system with no national design or a structure that allows for prevention or adequate care for people with mental illness. This is a situation which has caused extensive delays and pressure on the mental health system and mental health professionals alike.
Currently in Australia 20% of the adult population (aged 16 and up) deal personally with a mental health issue in any one year. Depression having the third highest prevalence of all medical diseases in Australia. While funding has increased from year to year, it still falls well short of what we as a community would call adequate. This lack of resources is often prohibiting people most at risk from accessing proper care and resources and may contribute to the fact that half of people with mental illness do not seek out any medical treatment. Waiting times, mental health professional shortages, closed books and short appointment times can delay treatment and contribute to shortfalls in detection and an accurate diagnosis. For patients on a mental health plan, once allowed Medicare health options are exhausted, these vulnerable people are left at risk waiting for their plan to roll over. It is almost as if patients need to plan hospital stays and appointments. Appointments for patients in emergency situations are usually accommodated, but plans for regular visits to psychologists and psychiatrists need to be made weeks or months in advance to access correct care needed by patients.
This being said, it can’t be overstated enough that general practitioners, psychologist, psychiatrists as well as other mental health professionals do an outstanding job even under increasing pressure. The current system is resulting in extended work hours and work load combined with the expectation not to make mistakes. Doctors have brief windows of opportunity to make a diagnosis on the state of a patient’s mental health and prescribe medication accordingly. The struggle to cope with these work-related issues are leading to doctors questioning their decision making, diagnosing and time management. This has led to a new breed of mental health affecting doctors in this field as well as other health care professionals. These professionals are reluctant to ask for help themselves and is causing the untimely death to some amazing people who give their all for their community.
Reasons for doctors being apprehensive about seeking help for their mental health can be because asking for help may be seen as a sign of weakness or cause them embarrassment. They feel it is their burden to assist their patients and to not be the patient. Medical professionals and health care workers can be apprehensive to share with peers, family or friends because they are at the forefront of mental health and are already armed with coping strategies. It is then felt that they should be well equipped to deal with these issues.
Their reluctancy also extends to the fear of being reported to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. AHPRA mandatory reporting regulations can discourage doctors to seek help with the fear of reprimand or deregistration because of the possibility that their conduct is a danger. This is not what the legislation was created for. This is necessary legislation to ensure public confidence and safety, but the description of contrary conduct explained clearly assist the mental health and associated issues of health care professionals.
These facts and figures are just the tip of the iceberg in a complex problem that exists about mental illness. Because of this, the mental health and wellbeing of those providing care can be forgotten. In a job surrounded by stress and heavy workload mental health care professionals can find themselves as the patient or worse.
While mental health funding amounts require change, so too does its allocation if patients are to benefit. The National Mental Health commission requested an inquiry into the “impact of mental illness on the economy” 18 months ago. The Government will be commencing this investigation later this month and it should be completed in another 18 months. This will be three years from its recommendation to completion. A whopping 9 billion dollars (including state and territory funding) that could be spent more productively and contribute to the National Mental Health Commission’s target to reduce suicide by 50%. This figure would bring the current rate of 3027 to 1513, or the more alarming statistic of more than 8 deaths by suicide a day to 4.
It really is time to change.