Patrick McGorry will talk about the need to fight for access to quality mental health care at the Let's Talk Mental Health forum at Wests

Time to act: Founder of headspace, Patrick McGorry, AO, will speak alongside local mental health advocate Craig Hamilton at the Let's Talk Mental Health seminar on July 24. Tickets available via westsnewcastle.com.au.

Time to act: Founder of headspace, Patrick McGorry, AO, will speak alongside local mental health advocate Craig Hamilton at the Let's Talk Mental Health seminar on July 24. Tickets available via westsnewcastle.com.au.

PROFESSOR Patrick McGorry is done with awareness.

Now, he wants action.

The Newcastle-trained psychiatrist, researcher, and former Australian of the Year hopes to mobilise the Hunter Region community into fighting for access to quality mental health care at a forum alongside beyondblue ambassador Craig Hamilton at Wests New Lambton on July 24.

“I’ve been to 50,000 meetings about raising awareness,” Professor McGorry said.

“And thanks to people like Craig Hamilton, and beyondblue, awareness is through the roof. But action is still through the floor.”

Professor McGorry said mental illness was responsible for 15 per cent of the burden of disease in Australia.

But only one-in-three people could access quality mental health care when they needed it.

Three thousand lives were lost to suicide every year.

“These people do not have terminal diseases like cancer. If they were properly helped, they would be alive,” he said.

“You can go to a GP and get a mental health plan and see a psychologist for 10 sessions, and this is federally funded, and that will probably be OK if the problem is fairly mild, or simple.

“But for problems with any degree of complexity – which most mental health problems actually are, then you can’t get help unless it is a life-threatening situation, in which case, the only real option is the ED.”

He called it the “missing middle.”

“If you don’t fit into the right categories, you can’t get help,” Professor McGorry said. “People with borderline personality disorder are a classic example.

“People with eating disorders, and complex mood disorders too – they are really out on a limb. We need a re-design of the mental health system.

“And we can do that. It is doable. But it will take the public to demand it, and then the politicians to fund it.”

Professor McGorry said the public had failed to put sufficient pressure on politicians to address the “under-investment”.

“If two-in-three women with breast cancer couldn’t get treatment until they were dying, or dead, it would be an untenable position for any politician,” he said. 

“We criticise the politicians, but we should also criticise ourselves, because we haven’t actually stood up and put the pressure on – not just for other people, but for our own self interest.

“People find out all the time, when someone in their family becomes mentally ill, that the neglect is there.

“But it’s too late then. People need to think ahead. We already know they won’t get access to good treatment, or that it will be very delayed, so why don’t we act?

“That’s what Newcastle people need to do. If they want services, they need to let their politicians know they expect that to happen.”

Lifeline 13 11 14