Health Policy and Advocacy
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Policy Analysis: Australia’s Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan
According to the World health organization (WHO), approximately a million people commit suicide globally, and many more suicidal attempts, about 10-20 million, are also registered yearly (Atkinson et al., 2019). These statistics make suicide one of the top leading causes of deaths among people, especially those aged between 15 and 44 years (Vu et al., 2018). According to Kinchin and Doran (2018), Australia’s leading cause of death among people aged 15-44 years is suicide, with at least 300 ending their lives each year in Australia. To minimize these numbers and prevent suicide, it is imperative that all Australians get the aid and support they need. This necessitated the institution of the Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan (YMHSPP) to devise approaches that can be employed to prevent suicide and priorities youth psychological health (Department of Health, 2019b). This paper aims at describing suicide and its context on how YMHSPP policy was developed. This paper discusses the policy’s frame of reference, identifies its stakeholders and target population, discusses the solutions and developments associated with the policy so far, and discusses its effectiveness.
The Problem and Policy Context
Mental health/disorders and suicidality (plan, attempt or ideation) among adolescents are great public health issues due to their high prevalence as well as the substantial burden that they place upon the society (Zubrick et al., 2016). Not only are suicidality and mental health issues frequently correlated, but Lawrence et al. (2016) note that both are crucial contributors of disabling conditions and premature mortality and are globally costly. In Australia, suicide is the leading cause of death among 15-24 year old Australians (Rosanov, 2020). According to a report by Orygen, Australian National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, identified the following from the ABS (2019) report: 3,046 Australians did die by suicide in 2018, out of which 458 were young people below 25 years (111 females and 347 males); overrepresentation of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal young people in these suicide data, with the indigenous Australians aged 15-24 having a suicide rate of 40.5 per 100,000 (three times the rate of non-indigenous young people (11.7)); among the 15-24-year-old Australian males, the age-standardized suicide rate was 20.2 per 100,000 individuals, relative to 18.4 in 2017; and among the 15-24-year-old females, the age-standardized rate of suicide was 6.4 per 100,000 individuals, relative to the 2017’s 6.6 (Islam, Khanam & Kabir, 2020). Therefore, the continuous increase in the rate of suicide deaths among young indigenous and non-indigenous Australians necessitated the establishment of YMHSPP. This prevention plan informs the object of this study.
Frame of Reference
Currently, the Australian government is considering the rise in mental health and suicide challenges among Australian youth as an emerging challenge that needs immediate address and solution. As a result of this continually increasing rate, various Australian organizations and international organizations based in Australia have urged the Australian government to accelerate its investment in mental health challenges and services that are culturally apposite for the Torres Strait Islander people and Aboriginals (Leaver, Hoyland & Parslow-Harris, 2018). Thomas et al. (2017) opine that since the suicide challenge is a complex and multifaceted issue, the Australian government has embraced a multipronged approach to minimize the same, encapsulating issues around social, economic, community, and mental health. Thus, the YMHSPP was made a national priority.
Target, Key Stakeholders and their Representation
The high suicide rate, especially among young Australians, is a national tragedy. Notwithstanding the good work being in this regard, suicide death rates continue to rise in Australia. Consequently, the Australian government allocated $461 million in its 2019-2020 budget for YMHSPP, a national strategy aimed at preventing suicide and fostering the mental wellbeing of indigenous and non-indigenous young Australians (Brogden & Morgan, 2019). The YMHSPP target is the Australian youth.
Aiding the implementation and realization of the policy’s goals are several stakeholders. First are the young ambassadors. Through the involvement of young ambassadors who have a past experience of mental health challenges, the YMHSPP will be able to educate young Australians regarding mental health and counsel them on how they can seek support (Page et al., 2017). The second category of stakeholders is the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS). ACCHS provide culturally appropriate mental healthcare services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (Leaver, Hoyland & Parslow-Harris, 2018). The programs and services are alike to services being provided by private and other community sectors. The other significant stakeholders are the consumers since the suicide prevention plan avail mental healthcare services which are responsible for offering them apt care and treatment (Page et al., 2018). Additionally, families and/or carers support in fighting mental health challenges and suicide.
Non-government and private sectors are equally key role players in suicide prevention plan. They contribute, according to Greydanus (2017), to the development of YMHSPP. Private sectors provide services like primary care, acute management, and rehabilitation which are provided by psychiatrists, psychologists, along with other allied healthcare professionals. Non-government sectors stress through their programs and services about assistance to individuals with mental health challenges and advocacy of mental healthcare (Islam, Khanam & Kabir, 2020).
Primary Health Network (PHN) is also crucial stakeholders in this policy implementation. The role of PHNs is to improve and deliver efficiency and effectiveness of the various medical services, like mental health programs as well as suicide prevention activities, to each and every Australian youth along with their families (Carey, 2020). Additionally, territories and states created Local health Networks (LHNs) to help manage mental healthcare services to public care facilities and other communities. However, Vu et al. (2018) note that the success of PHNs in the discharge of their roles depends on its collaboration with other sectors, like Community Advisory Committees, LHNs, and Clinical Councils.
Further, the federal, state, and local governments are crucial stakeholders as well. Regarded as capacity builders in this plan, the federal, state, and local governments role play in the allocation of budget to various suicide prevention programs and mental health services (Kinchin & Doran, 2018). They have the power to choose and implement policies and regulations to some health issue(s) (Zubrick et al., 2016). The Minister for Indigenous Health and that for Health have a responsibility in Australia’s public health issues of making sure that necessary resources are available, accessible and culturally apposite in communities and play a significant role in the initiation of development of medical researches aimed at finding out advancement of mental healthcare and treatment (Brogden & Morgan, 2019). The Minister for health also created a PHN advisor panel on matters mental health to oversee the structure for mental health plans created by the PHNs (Department of Health, 2019a). The panel carefully assesses the strategic plan developed for mental health and give assistance to the Minister for Health concerning the various strategies on how to aid the role of PHNs to successfully realize the commissioning responsibilities in mental health (Department of Health, 2019a).
Additionally, there is the National Mental Health Commission (NMHC), an Australian government agency that aims at giving mental health and suicide prevention a countrywide attention. NMHC has the responsibility of offering proof-based reports and provide assistance to the Australian community and the government regarding the actions that are effective or ineffective so that Australians, especially the young Australians, will realize utmost mental wellbeing and health (Thomas et al., 2017). Similarly, a Suicide Prevention Coordinator has been established under the country’s Prime Minister’s assortment to coordinate plans, strategies and activities across the country and assist in designing services that make significant differences for individuals at risk (Greydanus, 2017).
Healthcare is among the items given priority by the Australian government. Mental healthcare was recognized as among the four pillars of the country’s healthcare system. Consequently, the government has developed the YMHSPP owing to the constant rise in the rate and incidence of suicide along with the occurrence of mental healthcare challenges among young Australians. The government devoted $461 in its 2019-2020 to ensure that enhanced suicide prevention strategies and quality care are provided to Australians to assist the youth in realizing maximum mental wellbeing and health (Leaver, Hoyland & Parslow-Harris, 2018).
Mental health concerns in Australia and globally has been rising steadily among young people. This has been associated with the fact that young people along with their families do have insufficient access to mental healthcare services since most of the care services are not designed to be accessible to the young people (Sheppard, Deane & Ciarrochi, 2018). To help restrain the rising incidence among young Australians, the Australian government established the YMHSPP with a focus on three crucial solutions. First, YMHSPP functions to strengthen the headspace network. The headspace was formulated to lessen the suicide burden in young Australians aged 12-25 years that are caused by substance associated use along with mental health conditions (Rosanov, 2020). This program concentrates on early intervention to the young Australian population to help and support them deal with challenging situations in their personal lives (Page et al., 2018). The YMHSPP, through this initiative, offers youth-friendly care services that are able to prepare the young Australians along with their families to attain the best mental health results and connect with their families and communities (Sheppard, Deane & Ciarrochi, 2018). According to a report by ABS (2019), a sum of $375 million will be devoted to headspace and there will be 30 additional networks in 2021 at a $111 million sum. Through this initiative, at least 20 new units will be in rural and regional Australia to warrant support and access to all young Australians along with their families living in the country’s remote areas. The report adds that $110 will be set aside for the setting up of six headspace units which will be used to continue Early Psychosis Youth services. This program aims at delivering specialized medical services to young Australians at their initial stages of severe mental diseases.
The second solution concentrates on the prevention of suicide of indigenous youth. Studies have shown that the major hurdles hindering the indigenous Australian youth from seeking medical support are the cost, suitability, availability, and accessibility of mental health services (Brogden & Morgan, 2019; Atkinson et al., 2019; Carey, 2020). The ABS (2019) indicates that a sum of $34.1 million will be used to create programs and initiatives in developing culturally suitable mental health services for the indigenous Australian youth. The report adds that to bolster the indigenous youth leadership, a sum of $4.5 million will be allocated to assist Indigenous Suicide Prevention Australia form a countrywide plan suitable for the traditions and culture of the indigenous population. Additionally, $5 million will be used to motivate young leaders to participate in location-based tradition and culture courses, $3 million to support adolescents and underage children in Australia who are often the victims of childhood trauma, and $1.2 million to Red Dust to provide social and emotional wellbeing and support to Australia’s Northern Territory youth.
The third solution is to better early childhood and parenting support, for which $11.8 million has been allocated in the 2019-2020 budget. ABS (2019) reports highlights that a total of $1.5 million will be provided for the Raising Children Network to give expert guidance to parents on how to know when their children are experiencing challenges and how they can effectively respond in each situation. The report adds that $2.5 million is allocated to Smiling Minds, a school-based mindfulness program, where mental health issues will be integrated in education. The report highlights that $4 million will be used for Kids Helpline to enhance 24/7 crisis aid to youth and children. Other programs that will be effected under this solution include the improvement of the roles of peers in motivating other people to seek support and guidance and enhancement of community programs.
So far, it can be noted that Australia has rigorous determination to alleviate the rate of suicide among young Australian population. The PHNs are doing all that it takes to deal with the complex suicide issues. The PHNs and LHNs have formed partnerships to enhance integration of services across the country (Carey, 2020). Nonetheless, there is still a need to form more partnerships with other stakeholders to integrate suicide prevention services. ACCHS, within the context of mental health service provision in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, are experiencing financial issues and there are only a restricted number of PHNs offering partnerships with them (Rosanov, 2020). This is a long-term plan, requiring the government as a whole to have a vivid picture of their responsibilities and roles. Additionally, the Australian government and other stakeholders in this movement should have similar interests and robust partnerships for them to deliver appropriate and timely mental health care and services resulting in better outcomes for every single Australian you along with their families (Islam, Khanam & Kabir, 2020).
Evidently, mental health and suicide among the youth has been an alarming issue worldwide. In Australia, despite the indigenous Australian youth being worse affected by the issue, non-indigenous Australian youth are equally affected by the same. This has made the Australian government acknowledge the need for support in youth mental health and suicide, giving birth to the YMHSPP, a countrywide strategic plan that concentrates on strengthening headspace networks, offering support for early childhood and parenting, and preventing suicide for indigenous youth. This study has shown that these solutions can only be optimally achieved if the government as a whole along with crucial stakeholders works collectively to make sure that the services are suitable, available, and accessible to all Australian youth across the country. Additionally, this study has shown that mental health care and services will be bettered if proof-based research and countrywide suicide monitoring will be employed.
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