Parliament House Federal Government

Opportunities for proactive approaches to mental health reform

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By Kim O’Neill, CEO, On the Line

On the Line recently submitted our response to the Productivity Commission into the Social and Economic Benefits of Improving Mental Health, which provides us all with a fantastic opportunity to change the way our society views mental health.

The Productivity Commission takes a social and economic view of the value of mental health reform. Mental health issues are estimated to cost the Australian economy up to $60 billion annually, with a further $1.6 billion cost attributable to suicide and $15 billion in costs related to premature death. On an economic basis alone, it makes sense for us to address mental ill health as a top priority.

Those figures are staggering and warrant urgent action, but don’t account for the impact of mental ill health on individuals, family, friends and the community. We must also account for the secondary effects of these issues including substance abuse, family violence, poor physical health, suicide and shorter life expectancy, with corresponding impact on our health care, justice and other systems, plus society in general.


The importance of early action

Prevention and early intervention is crucial to address mental health issues.

Many of the more commonly recognised mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, can result from the build-up of many smaller challenges and the exhaustion of people’s coping mechanisms. When issues such as stress, loneliness and overwhelm are not adequately addressed, they can escalate into more serious issues, including alcohol and substance abuse, self-harm or suicide. Support and treatment during life’s tough times can make an enormous difference and should not require a clinical diagnosis before we take action.

The key to reducing the burden of disease, and therefore the overall cost on society, lies in early intervention that addresses the underlying causes of mental health.


Return on Investment

But there is some good news. A growing body of research is demonstrating that by changing our focus to addressing the early risk factors, we can not only help people feel better and build a better society, but save an enormous amount of money.

Many studies[1][2][3][4] on the economic benefits of early intervention demonstrate a return on investment of between 2 and 6 times the cost of action.


The path forward

On the Line recommends a proactive approach to our mental health model of care, into our methodologies of care, focussing on prevention and to address the underlying influences on mental ill health. This requires a broader view of what we define as a mental health issue, looking beyond clinical definitions and considering the impact of periods of loneliness and of acute stress on people’s mental health outcomes.

We have the opportunity to build a holistic model of care that is based on more consultative, collaborative and person-centred approaches. This means looking at the wants and needs of each person and tailoring our responses accordingly.

We need to acknowledge and teach the value of strong, supportive relationships in prevention at a community level and enhance our knowledge of how relationships can be a protective factor in a variety of mental health issues.

Education and psychosocial skills development must be a clear priority: providing the community with the ability to build and develop strong relationships, look after themselves emotionally and enhance their resilience.

What’s really important is integrating measures of social connectedness, wellbeing, happiness, empathy and living standards together with economic goals as the standards with which we measure the health of our society.

After all, isn’t how we feel the most important thing?


More information



[1] Investing to Save – The economic benefits for Australia of investment in mental health reform. (2018).  Mental Health Australia and KPMG

[2] Local action on health inequalities. Reducing social isolation across the lifecourse. 2015. Dan Durcan, Dr Ruth Bell

[3] London School of Economics and Policy, (2017). Making the economic case for investing in actions to prevent and/or tackle loneliness: a systematic review