After so many years of neglect, the tide is turning on mental health. The Victorian Government has shown great leadership in committing to a Royal Commission which is now under way, and great courage in agreeing to implement all of the recommendations when they are handed down.
The Royal Commission and what flows from it has great promise to transform the lives of thousands of Victorians and, by keeping people well and at work, deliver broader economic benefits for the state.
At a federal level, more needs to be done and, with the election now confirmed for May 18, we need to remind all candidates that there are votes in mental health.
The prominence of mental health in last year's Victorian election campaign should highlight for federal politicians that mental health is an issue of major concern for voters.
Last week, we were pleased that the federal budget included $737 million in new funding for mental health, albeit over seven years. But the reality is that we need the Commonwealth to invest billions not millions in mental health.
The budget contained an important but little publicised allocation of $115 million for a national trial of adult mental health centres. The aim of this is to start closing the mental health service gap between general practice and hospital emergency departments. They will bring together primary care with a range of support services to help keep people safe, well, housed and employed and most importantly out of hospital.
We were very pleased to hear that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has committed to fund a mental health centre in northern Tasmania if elected.
We look forward to more announcements like this.
Behind the scenes, Mental Health Victoria has been working with Professor Pat McGorry, community health services - including Gateway Health in Wodonga, regional and metropolitan hospital mental health services and others to develop the design concept for these adult mental health centres.
I urge you to ask candidates what their parties are doing for mental health in your electorate and to press the case for a mental health centre in your region. Remind them that mental health is a big issue and, to put it bluntly, that there are votes in it.
This is all particularly timely for regional Victoria, because the Royal Commission is asking people across the state to register for the first round of community consultations that got under way in Warrnambool, Pakenham and Hamilton this week.
It has scheduled consultations in Geelong, Ballarat, Mildura, Swan Hill, Werribee, Healesville, Seymour, Shepparton, Bendigo, Sale and Warrigal up until the end of May.
Ask candidates what their parties are doing for mental health in your electorate ... press the case for a mental health centre in your region. Remind them that mental health is a big issue and ... that there are votes in it.
Please think about registering if you or someone close to you, such as a family member, has accessed or tried to access mental health services in Victoria over the past five years.
You may also have much to contribute if you work in mental health services or in the broader health and social services sector and know what makes it harder in rural and regional areas to provide good care for people with mental health issues.
The Royal Commission is a once in a generation investigation into the way our system works to support people living with mental illness, and their carers and families. And it's particularly welcome to see it reach out so early to the community, and to begin its work in rural and regional areas where mental health issues are disproportionately higher and access to mental health services much lower than in our cities.
As commission chair Penny Armytage has said, meaningful changes to Victoria's mental health system and improvements to outcomes can only happen by listening and respecting the views of the community.
Hopefully, the growing demand from the community for critical action on mental health will also resonate for those contesting the federal election: candidates and parties.
Please join us in letting them know we want them to stand up and be counted on mental health.
You can register for the upcoming Royal Commission consultations at rcvmhs.vic.gov.au/whats-happening-now
Angus Clelland is chief executive of Mental Health Victoria.