Minister ignores mental health problem

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A few days ago our petition was tabled in parliament. That is, 11,653 Australians have called on our political representatives to change Medicare. These members of the voting public are asking for patients diagnosed with mental health condition to be given affordable access to between 15 and 20 appointments of psychological treatment if needed per year. To put the sheer numbers behind this into perspective, we found a picture that might help you visualise the scale in human tems of what 10,000 people actually looks like (here). It’s quite a lot of people for any petition, particularly one about a specific policy issue, on the topic of mental health, and one that fully conforms to the senate rules.

Getting our petition tabled in the senate was an important step to take and one would have hoped that our policy-makers would see sense and fix what has been broken. As that hasn’t happened though, what we really need now is for more Australians to appreciate how this flawed policy decision restricts access to psychological care and will cause us all more problems in the long run. We have made a short clip to help people realise what is going on and spread our message. Please help us share our clip across your networks, via facebook, twitter, email, or even just showing someone you know.

Another major challenge we face is that we find ourselves being stonewalled by the Federal Minister for Mental Health. Mark Butler has repeatedly ignored our requests for a meeting to discuss this issue. In August last year we asked to meet, but received a standard letter praising the Government’s investments. There was no mention of a meeting, so the next day we gave his office a call. We were told that “the Minister is not available at this time” so we asked when he might be free next, making it clear that we would be pleased to speak with him whenever he could see us. We were promptly told that we would need to call his Canberra office to make a booking, but they told us the same thing, adding that if the Minister wanted to meet with us he would have replied by now. I wondered whether that meant the Minister didn’t want to discuss this matter at all. I asked if that was the case and was advised that if we wanted a meeting we would need to put it in writing, so we tried again. It has been nearly 6 months since then and no reply.

Being the stubborn optimist that I am, earlier today I sat down to write some more letters: one for the Minister and one for the Prime Minister. You might like to write a letter to them yourself, letting our politicians know what you think about our representatives refusing to discuss these serious issues. I have said this before, but there’s a strange kind of irony going on when our politicians take up every photo opportunity they can to promote initiatives that encourage the public to talk about their mental health problems, yet when the public try to talk with our politicians about problems with dysfunctional mental health policies we simply get ignored and dismissed. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

Thankfully however, the rest of Australia are willing to talk about this issue. In fact, around one third of those who supported our petition didn’t just sign it, they also added quite detailed comments. We have collected over 3500 comments left behind by concerned members of the public from a variety of walks of life. Their views make for interesting reading and for those who don’t really get it, their words may help to explain why this issue is such a big deal for so many people. Of the 1000 people who are part of our Facebook group, we have also heard deep expressions of disappointment that the Minister has not been willing to face and work through the problems that are being raised. Here are a few quotes from people in our group to illustrate what I mean.

“I feel extremely disappointed that Minister Butler feels that he has no time to discuss or even defend the decisions he has made. How can he ignore the voting public that are directly effected by these mental health funding cuts, does he think we are all stupid. Most of us that work are accountable for the decisions that we make and have to be answerable for them, I don’t get how he thinks he’s not. The fact that he and his department can’t even reply to letters and emails is appalling. He obviously has no idea what living with a mental illness and having to find the money to get the help that works, is really like” ~ Desiree
“Minister Butler’s repeated decline to meet with or discuss the issues around Mental Health demonstrates his fear and a lack of understanding of the issues. Repeated decline to engage in the topic over such an extended period of time is not due to his being too busy, it is that he is intentionally ignoring the topic. Minister Butler is currently the government of the day’s representative for Mental Health, whose role it is to advocate for the best interests of the Australian people. This is challenging when he is not prepared to listen to or discuss contemporary issues. Minister Butler on a number of occasions has publicly misquoted research and appears to be ill informed on his portfolio. His resistance to discuss the issues is not only disrespectful and insulting to professionals and consumers in the Mental Health sector, but also brings into question his knowledge and appropriateness to be delegated this important responsibility to represent the Australian people. ~ Jenny
“It is thoroughly disappointing to have a minister who refuses to engage in conversation over this topic. By ignoring us, and refusing to hear us out, from a “consumer” point of view, it feels like he doesn’t care, that our concerns are not a concern for him, and that we are not being heard. In a society where mental illness is already so misunderstood, and has such stigma to contend with, a minister who ignores the issue of treatment, who ignores the research and ignores the financial hardship that mental illness sufferers can be under, is adding to the stigma of having a mental illness. ~ Claire
“It shows he doesn’t care about the effects the cuts are having. We arent important enough to him.. BUT we do have to VOTE this year…maybe he should be reminded of that!” ~ Melinda

So tell us what you think. Is it appropriate for a Minister with the Mental Health portfolio to ignore such a large sector of the voting public? What do you think about the current situation? What is it like to be expected to recover from depression, anxiety, or any other mental health condition, in 10 appointments or less?