09/06/2016 10:41 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST

Suicide Is 'Like A King Tide', And Money Is Needed To Fix It

'The mental health sector has been paralysed with uncertainty.'

Suicide is sweeping the nation like a "king tide" according to former Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry, who has urged the future Prime Minister to reappoint a Mental Health Minister after the election.

Professor McGorry addressed the National Press Club on Thursday, aiming to bring mental health to the forefront of the election debate as funding redistribution threatens the future of many support services.

As the nation's economic state continues to dominate the debate this week, McGorry argued the cost of mental illness is among the country's biggest expenses -- costing $2 billion annually.

"If we can improve healthcare by 10 percent we would save millions," McGorry said in Canberra on Thursday.

"Many Australian lives are being diminished. Our country is seriously weakened by [mental illness]. Suicide rates have become a king tide -- 2,864 people compared to 1153 people dying on the roads."

A review into mental health services by the Federal Government in 2015 has led to newly established Primary Health Networks claiming all mental health funding and redistributing it throughout current services as well as new services. Early Psychosis Youth Services (EPYS) around the country -- established by Headspace, where McGorry is a board member -- have been notified of gradual cuts over the next two years.

Further announcements are expected to be made in July, but the six nationwide EPYS clinics have been allocated 70 percent of their current funding for the 2016-17 financial year and 30 percent of funding the following year. A South Australian program will also be closed in July.

"You don't dismantle breast cancer centres to fund everyone with any type of cancer getting one session of chemotherapy, but that's what is being proposed here for us," McGorry said.

"What other area of healthcare would mistake restructure with no further investment as the only plank necessary to reform the health area that is drastically under resourced and under-performing.

"The mental health sector has been paralysed with uncertainty."

Getty Images
Professor Patrick McGorry accepts the Australian of the Year award in 2010.

Health Minister Sussan Ley told The Huffington Post Australia that the Government had promised to make mental health a first-term priority and that, from July, they would be implementing changes recommended by top mental health experts.

"That wide-ranging review of existing mental health services indicated it was not about more money, it is about allocating what is a substantial amount of funding more effectively, and this is exactly what we are doing.

"I welcome Patrick's passionate advocacy in mental health, particularly on behalf of our young people. He has strong and forthright views and I am always open to hearing what he has to say."

After Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said "no stone would be left unturned" when addressing suicide prevention two weeks ago, McGorry brought three stones to the National Press Club.

The first stone uncovered stories of Australians suffering from mental illnesses, with one not receiving significant treatment until her mental illness became a physical one.

The second stone uncovered Australia's mental health reform over the past decade. McGorry praised the establishment of Headspace, Mental Health Nursing and early intervention programs for suicide and psychosis.

"Many of these are now unnoticed or on the slide into the pool the department has come up with," McGorry said.

Under the third stone lied the Prime Minister's push for 21st technologies to contribute to the success of mental health services, and communication between the sector.

"We need new cultures, we need new skills, we need new spaces. We have to recognise mental health -- one of the essential parts of the health system -- is different," McGorry said.

"It's not the same thing as cardiac disease or cancer. We like to think it is. It has a lot of overlap but there is something special about it. It's about people. It's not just about brains, it's about people."

  • If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.