Comments on the Productivity Commission draft report on mental health and well being

Comments on the Productivity Commission draft report on mental health and well being

November 5, 2019

The draft report from the Productivity Commission is a comprehensive overview of mental health issues in Australia. I have selected some  sections relevant to civil psychiatry. However first a few general comments.

  1. The term Mental Health is taken as a whole, collapsing categories of people ranging from those feeling distressed because of environmental stressors, eg adjustment disorders, to people with serious mental illness. The following quote illustrates the confusion:

• In any year, approximately one in five Australians experiences mental ill-health. While most people manage their health themselves, many who do seek treatment are not receiving the level of care necessary. As a result, too many people suffer additional preventable physical and mental distress, relationship breakdown, stigma, and loss of life satisfaction and opportunities.
• The treatment of mental illness has been tacked on to a health system that has been largely designed around the characteristics of physical illness. But in contrast to many physical health conditions mental illness tends to first emerge in younger people (75% of those who develop mental illness, first experience mental ill-health before the age of 25 years) raising the importance of identifying risk factors and treating illness early where possible.

In these 2 paragraphs it is unclear as to whether or not mental ill-health and mental illness are the same. Are the statistics in the second paragraph relevant to the first paragraph?

The result is equivalent to a report discussing prevention, treatment and social support options for all physical illness without clarifying what conditions are being discussed. In other words, by taking mental ill-health (their term) as an entity it misses out on the syndromal issues regarding different causation,symptoms, effects of symptoms and appropriate direct and other care.

2. The costing ranges from accurate (2018-2019 Commonwealth expenditure on mental health care – $3.6bn ) to a questimate (The annual cost of informal care provided by family and friends).  The basis of this and other such estimates are discussed in an appendix but are impossible to obtain with any accuracy, nevertheless it and other estimates are placed side by side with much more accurate figures. In my view this is misleading.  This figure is also said to be a conservative estimate!

3. The section on work and mental health is all encompassing. However it does not explore the complex psycho-socio-medical milieu of many mental health claims. Those of us who do the work of assessing claimants know of these issues and are aware that relationship issues are usually paramount, no matter the listed cause of the psychological injury.

I was pleased to see it picked up on the discrimination against claimants with work related psychological injuries in accessing benefits.

here are a few excerpts:


Table 1 Estimated cost of mental ill-health and suicide 2018-19

Cost category $ billion per year

Australian Government expenditure

healthcare (includes prevention) 3.6

other portfolios (eg. employment, psychosocial support) 1.3

State and Territory Government expenditure

healthcare (includes prevention) 6.9

other portfolios (eg. education, housing, justice) 4.4

Individual out-of-pocket expenses 0.7

Insurer payments for healthcare 1.0

Informal care provided by family and friends 15.0

Loss of productivity and reduced participation 9.9-18.1

Cost to economy (excluding the cost of diminished health and wellbeing) 43-51

Cost of diminished wellbeing (for those living with mental ill-health or self-inflicted injuries, and/or dying prematurely, including those who die by suicide) 130

Other costs that overlap with (and cannot be added to) the above

Costs to the economy of suicide and suicide attempts (excludes the costs of pain and suffering of the individual and their family and friends) 16-34

Income support payments for those with mental ill-health and carers 9.7

• Cost to the Australian economy of mental ill-health and suicide

– $43 to $51 billion per year

Including State and Commonwealth costs re healthcare, education, housing and justice-insurer payments healthcare-informal care family/friends/ loss of productivity

• Plus approximately $130bn per year associated with reduced health and life expectancy

TOTAL COST $173bn – $181bn

Productivity Commission modelled the cost of forgone output due to mental ill health  $9.9 billion – $18.1 billion in 2018-19 (does not include absenteeism cost)

Workers Compensation

Provisional liability and interim payments

Some workers compensation schemes provide support for all workers compensation claims — not just mental health related claims — prior to liability being determined: the New South Wales scheme refers to these arrangements as provisional liability, South Australia as interim payments and the Tasmanian scheme as ‘without prejudice’ payments (table 19.2).

Under these arrangements, the injured worker is assumed to be entitled to benefits (including for the loss of income), and is supported on the basis of this assumption, unless and until a decision on liability is made to the contrary. These arrangements provide for the payment of benefits (for a specified period) and medical expenses (typically to a specified amount) before a decision is made on liability under the relevant legislation. For example, the Tasmanian scheme makes ‘without prejudice payments’ for limited medical expenses up to the value of $5000 and the New South Wales scheme meets medical expenses of up to $7500 under provisional liability. This can reduce delays for an injured worker in gaining access to the appropriate medical attention and income and reduce other potential stressors while the decision of liability is being determined. However, where a final determination is made to deny the claim any payments made are recoverable as a debt in South Australia whereas in New South Wales and Tasmania the insurer is not able to recoup these payments.

Productivity Commission Recommendations

  1. Individual placement and support programs that assist people with mental illness to work and reduce reliance on income support.
  2. Mental health part of workplace health and safety, with codes of practice for employers developed and implemented.
  3. No-liability clinical treatment should be provided for mental health related workers compensation claims until the injured worker returns to work or up to six months.

These recommendations, especially 1 and 2 are already being done but the return to work rate for people with work related psychiatric injury has not changed for more than 10 years.

The 3rd recommendation is problematic, who will pay and why is this limited to people with mental health problems?

I commend the draft report to you for whiling away a pleasant Sunday afternoon.




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