(Australian Associated Press)
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg didn’t know a close colleague suffered from severe depression until he pledged a multi-million dollar boost to mental health funding in his first budget.
More than half of the $737 million in new mental health money, to be rolled out over seven years, will be allocated to improve youth services including suicide prevention.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for 15 to 44-year-olds with more than 3000 people taking their lives each year.
“The high rate of suicide, particularly among our young people, is a national tragedy which we have to take urgent action to address,” Mr Frydenberg said.
Addressing a post-budget National Press Club lunch on Wednesday, the treasurer said a colleague had confided his struggle with severe depression as a young man.
“Being a man in his 20s he thought he could beat it all himself,” Mr Frydenberg said.
The illness had made the man feel “in his words, ‘like a zombie’, no feeling of happiness or sadness, just personal pain”, he said.
“Too ashamed to talk to someone about it or go and see a doctor, he finally admitted that he had a weakness, he had a mental illness.”
Now his colleague takes medication, manages his illness effectively and lives a normal life, Mr Frydenberg said.
“But he is just one of the fortunate ones in our community who did get help in time,” he added.
The budget measures grant more than $250 million to youth mental health provider Headspace, including funding for 30 new centres to help reduce waiting times.
A special suicide prevention advisor, to assist the cabinet on mental health policy development, will be appointed by the prime minister.
A perinatal mental health program, four residential facilities specialising in eating disorders and community-based mentoring and peer support for indigenous youth are also part of the package.
Suicide Prevention Australia chief executive Nieves Murray says the funding is a major step forward.
“Global evidence shows a fragmented and mental illness-specific approach doesn’t work,” Ms Murray said.
“An integrated approach to suicide prevention encompassing mental health, social, economic and community is the best evidence-based solution.”
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