ABC Illawarra radio - improving our mental health services

MELISSA JAMES: Throsby MP Stephen Jones is warning that economic stresses and job losses are likely to lead to a spike in mental health issues. 

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There is a mental health forum going on in Wollongong today where Labor's Shadow Minister for Health, Jan McLucas, will hear about the issue and how it affects the region first hand. Stephen Jones has told William Verity that the situation has improved but there are still significant gaps in services. 

SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH, STEPHEN JONES: There is a lot of interest in mental health issues in the Illawarra and there is concern about gaps in services. People with issues themselves or families with issues are finding it very difficult to get access to the services they need. So Sharon and myself have put together a forum; we are getting our mental health spokesperson Jan McLucas, who is an expert in our area, to come and talk to local service providers and to their clients to get a local perspective of what is going on.

WILLIAM VERITY: Okay so can you outline to me some of the major issues in the mental health area?

JONES: We know that we have got issues with people finding it difficult to get access to mental health services. We know from carers who are looking after people with mental issues that they are finding it difficult to get respite care or the support that they need. We also know that when a region goes through high unemployment or when you get an economic shock to the region - and we've gone through several - that there is a spike in mental health issues. We think we need to have the services in place to deal with it.

VERITY: Is the Illawarra a hot spot for mental health issues, is it different from any other area in Australia?

JONES: We do know that we have some issues that we have to deal with and often these things will have a stubborn correlation with social disadvantage. We know that there are some issues in certain demographics or population groups. Also, if you've got problems with domestic violence, problems with drug and alcohol abuse, you will also find a pattern of mental health issues as well.

VERITY: Mental health has for years, for decades, possibly even forever has always been the poor cousin. This was ably pointed out by the former Australian of the year Patrick McGorry. What are the changes that you would like to see in the mental health area?

JONES: I think we've come a long way in the last ten years. When you've got two former premiers in Geoff Gallup and Jeff Kennett who are willing to stand up and say - we were in the very top of our fields and we had mental health issues and we tried to hide it and it didn't help, I think that has taken the issue a long way in terms of de-stigmitising. But what we still don't have are the services to provide support to people with those issues and their families.

VERITY: So how are you going to be measuring success from Monday's community forum?

JONES: The sort of success that we are looking for is getting a good survey of the issues confronting service providers and a good survey of the issues confronting their clients in the Illawarra.

VERITY: Okay and then you will be putting that into the mix and then if and when you are in government you can put that into your policy, is that the idea?

JONES: We don't have to wait until we form government, we can be taking these issues up with the current government. We know that we have had an extensive study conducted by the Mental Health Commission, that has reported to government. We want to get a local perspective on those same issues, we think the Illawarra will have all the issues that came up in the Mental Health Commission report. 

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