OPINION –  It is easy to become despondent in these grim times. Uninspiring election campaigns, policies that fail to offer any transformational change, candidates that gloss over details in favour of empty slogans. Over the past few months, there’s been a National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement that has failed to deliver, a federal budget which completely ignored community mental health, statistics on skyrocketing homelessness in the face of flooding catastrophes, and frightening reports about the long-term unsustainability of the NDIS. Meanwhile, we know that there is a growing group of people completely missing out on the right care leading to emergency departments bursting at the seams.

Given all of that, it is tempting to throw our hands up in despair and abandon the cause. But before we accept defeat, I would like to share with you some heartening things I have witnessed in recent weeks.

I was invited to speak at the federal election event hosted by the QLD Disability Alliance earlier in the month. This event, attended by among others Bill Shorten (Labor’s Shadow Minister for the NDIS), Jordon Steel-John (Greens spokesperson for disability and mental health) and Queensland Senator Bob Katter, focused on ensuring that the next Federal Government delivers inclusion, rights and access for the disability community. I was struck by the palpable energy and commitment to the cause demonstrated by Queensland’s disability sector. Their determination to achieve equal rights and a fairer NDIS was inspiring.

The public hearings for Queensland’s Mental Health Inquiry also wrapped up recently, with the final report to be handed down at the end of this month. In watching these live broadcasts, I have been impressed by the strong voices from the community sector which gave such compelling evidence to the committee. It will be impossible to ignore their testimonies, which I hope will result in a commitment to properly support the Community Mental Health and Wellbeing Sector in the future.

This week, the Queensland Alliance for Mental Health brought members together with Associate Professor John Allan (Executive Director, MHAODB) and Ivan Frkovic (Queensland Mental Health Commissioner) to discuss the National Agreement and the consequent bilateral deal signed by Queensland and the Commonwealth. While acknowledging the lack of allocated funding for our sector, both presenters were firm in their belief that the community sector has a central role to play in Queensland’s future mental health system. I hold out hope that the Inquiry’s recommendations and the upcoming state budget will support this view.

Finally, I have been fortunate to attend a series of events and meetings recently around social prescribing in the arts. I leave these meetings with little doubt that harnessing our existing community through social prescribing is becoming an accepted pathway to recovery. When you witness the life-changing journey that participating in the creative arts community can bring, it becomes clear that not all human distress needs a clinical response.

The genie is out of the bottle. The Community Mental Health and Wellbeing Sector is proving to be a formidable force. Lived experience has embedded itself in the sector’s consciousness. The 2020 Productivity Commission report’s scathing evidence and clear recommendations for transformational change has not faded from view but is an ever-present reminder of where we are heading.

So, rather than becoming consumed with the litany of failures of politicians and policy decisions, I am urging you to summon up some hope. Yes, we need to be honest about the poor deal our sector has received in recent times, but we also need to not lose sight of how far we’ve come and continue to advocate for a better mental health system. I would encourage you to send your federal candidates letters using the draft prepared by QAMH and remember to ask your candidates: What do you plan to do for community mental health? The tide is turning. By rallying together we can enforce that transformational change that we know is necessary.

Jennifer Black
Chief Executive Officer
Queensland Alliance for Mental Health

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QAMH is the peak body for community-managed mental health organisations, representing more than 100 not-for-profit services that work with people experiencing mental health challenges.

QAMH CEO Jennifer Black is available for comment on community mental health and wellbeing matters.

Media contact: Emma Griffiths, QAMH Director – Advocacy and Communications

M: 0439 971 080

E: egriffiths@qamh.org.au