The Productivity Commission says mental illness costs the Australian economy $220 billion each year.

The government agency has attempted to quantify the financial cost of mental illness and suicide in Australia.

The Productivity Commission’s report documents longstanding problems such as dysfunctional approaches to the funding of services and a lack of clarity between governments about their roles.

The experts say this has created “persistent wasteful overlaps and yawning gaps in service provision”.

“Australia's current mental health system is not comprehensive and fails to provide the treatment and support that people who need it legitimately expect,” the report states.

The commission has made a wide-reaching set of recommendations for the health system, schools, workplaces, housing and justice.

It suggests investing around $4.2 billion in various improvements each year could save governments as much as $20 billion a year.

The report was commissioned before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the experts say the point that it covers are all likely to be worse by now.

“Some of the relevant reforms would not be easy or quick to implement, requiring negotiation between multiple government agencies and/or an upskilling of the relevant workforce and changes in deep-seated workplace and community cultures,” the report states.

“However, the Productivity Commission considers that these limitations should not deter policymakers from pursuing highly beneficial reform.”

Among the list of recommendations are calls to;

  • create a mental health system that places people at its centre, allowing them access the combination of healthcare and community services that will best help them to recover from mental illness
  • improve efforts in children’s wellbeing with an outcomes-focused approach that measures success, and enables improvements in leadership, training and resourcing
  • strengthen the mental health services offered by tertiary education providers
  • seek improvements to workplace mental health that lower employee absenteeism, increase productivity and reduce mental health related compensation claims
  • improve the ability of people with mental illness to participate socially and experience inclusion
  • offer effective aftercare to anyone who presents to a hospital, GP or community mental health service following a suicide attempt, including culturally capable support before people are discharged or leave a service, and proactive follow up support within the first day, week and three months of discharge
  • empower people to make informed choices between a range of service and provider options that are evidence-based and clinically recommended for the individual, given their condition and circumstances
  • expand supported online treatment to provide a convenient, clinically effective, low cost way for people to manage their mental illness
  • commission a rigorous evaluation of Medicare-rebated psychological therapy, including trials to test whether consumers would benefit from more sessions in a year
  • improve hospitals and crisis response services so they can support the recovery of the person in a safe environment which meets their needs
  • improve the care provided to people with comorbidities
  • reforms to make mental health systems easier to navigate and improve consumers’ access to services
  • place greater emphasis on the recovery needs of mental health consumers and considering new ways of delivering health services
  • improve delivery of psychosocial supports, including a range of services to help people manage daily activities, rebuild and maintain social connections, build social skills and participate in education and employment
  • improve access to supports for families and carers
  • reduce barriers to employment faced by people with mental illness and increase their workforce participation
  • assist housing and homelessness services to prevent people with mental illness from experiencing housing issues and support people with mental illness to find and maintain housing in the community
  • improve mental healthcare for people in all parts of the justice system, and improve access to justice for people with mental illness and legal needs
  • commit governments to a more strategic and cross portfolio approach to mental health that promotes genuine accountability and that prioritises prevention, early intervention and recovery
  • reform mental health planning and funding arrangements to remove existing distortions, clarify government responsibilities and support regional decision making
  • require governments support data collection and use, transparent monitoring and reporting, program evaluations and practical research

The full report is accessible here.