The Australian Government has announced an Expert Advisory Group on Mental Health. The panel is to propose measures to overhaul the sector.
There have been insistent calls for upgrading mental health services in the country, focusing particularly on the need to deal with mental disorders such as anxiety and depression among children. In 25 per cent of mental-illness cases in young people, the problem emerges before the age of 12, it has been observed.
The advisory group is to be chaired by Minister for Mental Health and Ageing Mark Butler, and includes Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry along with 11 other mental health sector experts.
Minister Butler, Australia's first national mental health minister, says the Gillard Government is acutely aware of the need for significant reform of the way mental health services are provided in Australia and says it is important that this process is influenced and informed by experts, service providers and people in the community affected by mental illness.
Butler says that the creation of the new, time limited, specialist group will allow for targeted advice to be provided directly to the Australian Government on how to achieve the most coordinated, cost-effective and lasting reforms for their investment in mental health care.
The group is also expected to examine three other key areas of need: community-based services for teenagers and young adults; better co-ordination of health and social services for people with severe psychiatric conditions; and development of telephone and web-based counselling services found to be effective in helping people with mental illness.
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, signalled that mental health would be a second-term priority but it is not clear yet whether the findings of the expert group will translate into measures for next year's budget.
Professor McGorry said he did not expect an instant injection of funds but the government had to realise that over the next two or three years ''the whole thing has to be scaled up massively''.
Ms Gillard and Mr Butler had shown they were serious about expansion but their challenge would be to gain the support of other ministers, he said.
The group will include South Australia's social inclusion commissioner, David Cappo, who said he had made it ''very clear'' he would press for ''vast'' increases in funding to expand community-based services.