Mental Health, Cost of Living

I want to take this opportunity to talk about the core issues my Lindsay community is reaching out to me about right now. First and foremost, the dual cost-of-living and mental health crisis is causing severe distress right across my community, from young people to seniors. There are so many examples of how the increasing financial challenges are impacting Western Sydney youth and families and, as I said, our seniors. These cost-of-living pressures are impacting the mental health of Australians.

Mortgage increases are having a big effect on families in my community. The rise in rental prices is hitting young families and many seniors very hard. The rapid, successive interest rate rises have meant local families have sold their dream homes, some mums and dads are now working multiple jobs, and lifestyle changes are having to occur. Kids are now missing out on weekend footy, soccer and netball because the cost of petrol, registration, uniforms and equipment is not in the price range many Western Sydney families can afford. This could lead to mental and physical health problems now and in the long term for these kids who aren't playing with their mates, running around and building a love for sport and activity and team fun. I told the House last week about a horrific incident in which a local dad was not able to receive the acute mental health treatment he needed in a timely manner. It was a reminder that local small-business people are struggling with the inflationary challenges on products, contracts and much more.

A Suicide Prevention Australia report last week noted for the first time a majority of Australians are feeling distressed by the soaring cost of living. The same report noted a negative reaction to the Albanese Labor government's budget, particularly its financial support. The Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday that Mental Health Australia chair Matt Berriman said:

With one in five of us impacted by a mental health condition each year, why is mental health not a national priority and getting the attention of our prime minister?

This is backed by an Ipsos poll commissioned by Mental Health Australia, which shows 59 per cent of Australians say the cost of living is having a major impact on their mental health.

What is the government doing to support those suffering this cost-of-living and mental health crisis? The government hasn't delivered the $275 commitment to lower power prices, which is one prime example of the inaction on the cost of living that is impacting families. On mental health, the Minister for Health and Aged Care slashed the Better Access psychology sessions in half. Families have reached out to me with horrible stories about how the halving of 20 Medicare subsidised psychology sessions to 10 has meant that the mental health treatment their children need is harder to access and they simply cannot afford it.

On R U OK? Day, it is vital to reach out to friends, families and colleagues and ask: 'Are you okay?' I know so many people in Lindsay are not doing okay right now. The cumulative impacts of multiple natural disasters, from fires to floods, in my local community have caused trauma. We know it takes a few years post a dramatic event for the total toll of the mental health impacts to be revealed in a community, and I know many are still struggling with this, particularly those that live in the semi-rural communities in the north and south of my electorate. COVID-19 compounded the rising levels of mental ill health across Western Sydney. Our communities faced some of the longest lockdowns in Australia. Our kids suffered from social isolation. The alarmingly increasing rate of anxiety diagnoses during the post-lockdown period shows this has been felt by our young people.

I have met with some fantastic advocates in the mental health space, particularly over the last couple of years, and they're continuing their call for better mental health support for kids, teens and young adults in schools, universities, TAFEs, colleges and worksites. We need real action to reduce the cost-of-living pressures and a plan to bolster mental health support services across the nation to quell this dual crisis. The Lindsay community is distressed. Western Sydney is distressed. The country is distressed. But, as Australians, we will fight on.

I want my community and others to know that support is available to those who need it. If you're not feeling okay today, please call Lifeline on 131114. But as Australians we will fight on, and I want my community and others to know that support is available to those who need it. If you're not feeling okay today, please call Lifeline on 131114.

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