Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:17): I am pleased to speak on Ms Crozier’s motion, which I support. I think it is really important to consider what we are doing in talking about mental health. In some ways the commentary around mental health has been almost more damaging than the pandemic. We have been using it, you know—there have been sound bites, there has been misrepresentation of the statistics, and quite often we are frightening the same young people that we are here to protect. I note today a new survey from Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute was released, This is a survey that has been running for a number of years; in fact, close on a decade. They have seen a steady increase in young people experiencing psychological distress from 2012 to 2020, and in actual fact in their survey they have seen a decrease between 2019 and 2020. It was insignificant, but that one in four young people suffering mental health issues has been steady. This is not pre COVID.
I think if we take one silver lining out of this, it is the interest in mental health and that we are seeing bipartisan support for mental health and mental health funding and dealing with mental health. Tomorrow is R U OK? day. Tomorrow is the day we will be checking in with our friends, our colleagues. We will be talking about it. I think there is a fine balance between frightening people about mental health and providing that space for people to talk about it, for reducing the stigma around mental health. We know at least probably a quarter of us in this chamber will have a mental health experience and suffer a mental health issue—it may be even more—but we know that it is happening, and we need to address that.
But I think one point that I just want to make—I only want to contribute for a short time—is actually about mental health nurses. I have been getting calls from mental health nurses in my office. They are exhausted. They are suffering from some of the rhetoric out there as well. I had one mental health nurse who called last week. I did not get the chance to speak to her, but she said to my staff that she had responded to so many critical incidents of self-harm recently that she had had to take three weeks off. The psychological stress that these frontline workers are facing is immense. It is not only psychological, it is physical. When you are working as a frontline mental health nurse you are getting abused, both mentally and physically, and you are being paid $28 an hour to do it—$28 an hour to be a trained mental health nurse. If we are so concerned about mental health, then we should be paying our nurses significantly more. In fact a mental health nurse on average earns $10 000 less than her colleague who is a social worker. Why would anyone want to join the mental health workforce to be paid poorly, to be abused and right now to be hearing that what we are doing is not working—that what they are doing is not working? In fact up to a third of the workforce is considering leaving. They just cannot cope. They cannot cope. We hear about the mental health system, but we do not talk about how that system is not necessarily buildings. That system is people. That system is the mental health workers at the front line helping our friends, our constituents, deal with this, so we need to invest in that workforce.
We know, and there is no doubt, that there has been an increase in demand for mental health services. Certainly I commend the government for their commitment to act on every single recommendation from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, but we have got a workforce that is under so much pressure that it could explode and we could lose a third of our workforce when we should be trying to recruit them. So while I support this motion, I can say that one of the things we need to be doing, and I would hope that the government will be doing this, is paying our mental health nurses and workers more.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan
Ms Crozier’s motion 8/9/21