By Madolline Gourley

The $2.2-billion allocation to mental health in this year’s budget needs to be made accessible immediately, according to Queensland health professionals.

After a series of natural disasters in Queensland over the past summer, doctors and psychologists say people help now, not later.

Australian Medical Association Queensland (AMA Qld) President Dr Gino Pecoraro said the federal funding is timely.

Dr Gino Pecoraro believes the government's funding is timely.
Dr Gino Pecoraro believes the government's funding is timely.

“We know from studies around the world that whenever there’s a natural disaster there’s an increase in things like anxiety, depression and more severe cases of post-traumatic stress disorder,” Dr Pecoraro said.

“We’re very happy that the government has seen fit to try to make up for the many, many years where mental health has been under funded in this country.

“But we need to make sure that the money and those services promised are available now.”

QUT’s School of Psychology and Counselling senior lecturer Dr Jane Shakespeare-Finch agreed.

“I think the government have been aware of mental health issues for a long time,” she said.

“The boosts in the budget are absolutely necessary and have been for quite some time. The natural disasters have put mental health on the map.”

Dr Shakespeare-Finch said a stigma is attached to mental illness, which the media, and society, need to address.

Studies conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show one out of every five Australians will experience some form of mental illness in their lives, with three out of 10 being seriously affected.

“So many people were traumatised by the experiences, especially in the Lockyer Valley and Toowoomba, because of the death that occurred there,” Dr Shakespeare-Finch said.

“The distress is widespread. There have been elevated levels of depression and anxiety, and even domestic violence at this stage. That’s put some strain on the mental health care system as well.”

“It’s not all about funding and having services that cost lots of money; it’s about highlighting community needs and making sure people in the community are assisting those in need,” she said.

AMA Qld has identified seven ‘Signs’ to indicate whether someone you know may be experiencing difficulty:

  1. Complaints of continued poor sleep with ongoing nightmares.
  2. Observations a person is easily overwhelmed, tearful or fragile.
  3. The use of drugs or alcohol to suppress intense emotions or to try and achieve sleep.
  4. A pattern of withdrawing from family and friends and not engaging in day-to-day discussions that generally allow people to slowly debrief.
  5. Problems performing at work such as struggling to concentrate on the job at hand.
  6. Startling easily and declining invitations for social engagements and other usually pleasurable activities.
  7. Increased or unreasonable irritability with family, workmates or friends.