Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

Mental health experts need to be heard

Edited by Jill Wright,

The economic craziness of government austerity policies is well argued by experts like Nobel laureate Paul Krugman (his latest is here) and Oxford University's Professor Michael Wren-Lewis at the Mainly Macro blog, although the logic seems beyond the understanding of all but a few of our politicians and business leaders.

Unfortunately, the emotional effects of this economic simple-mindedness are scarcely ever mentioned.

That's why the fact that 400 mental health experts have written to The Guardian  expressing their concern about the effects on the British nation's psychological well-being of their government's policies is so important.

The letter pointed out that increasing inequality and poverty, families being forced from their homes and tightening of benefit levels were part of a "wider reality of a society thrown completely off-balance by the emotional toxicity of neo-liberal thinking".

The willingness of the British mental health community to take a public stand sets a model for their counterparts in Australia - particularly at a time when our government is considering a major review of mental health programs and services in this country.

Today's editorial in The Age suggests that the government should introduce the recommended changes without delay. In doing so, the newspaper is displaying a good deal more faith in the wisdom of committees of review than I do.

While the editorial writers opine that there have been "sufficient studies, enough reviews" it seems to me that the government is right to seek a wider response to the recommendations. It is one thing to be permitted to make suggestions to a committee - and the review panel makes much of having considered these submissions - but it is quite another to be denied the opportunity to question what the committee has made of those suggestions.

Quite apart from the obvious danger of the government using the call for change as a smokescreen to promote its political agenda, there is a real risk that some sectors of the professional community might be using the review to push their own narrow interests.

Too often in the past, a comparatively small group of academics, psychiatrists and other influential professionals has convinced government to accept their models and rubber-stamp their proposals, with little more than a whimper from experienced professionals.

And what has been achieved from that? An unprecedented explosion in mental health problems, followed by yet another "expert report".

This time, let's hear what other professionals, many of whom have far more clinical experience than the well-placed professionals and bureaucrats compiling these reviews, have to say in the interests of their clients before we head off down yet another track.

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.