Greg Hunt announces additional funding for mental health

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Health minister Greg Hunt has announced an additional $20 million in funding for a range of mental health research projects in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minister Hunt said almost half of Australians will experience a mental illness during their lifetime with the impact of the pandemic making it even more important to prioritise mental health.

"The disruption to normal life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the required restrictions has had profound impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of many Australians," he said.

He said that, since 30 January, the federal government has provided an additional approximately $500 million for mental health services and support, including $64 million for suicide prevention, $74 million for preventative mental health services and $48 million to support the pandemic response plan.

Minister Hunt said the federal government will provide $3 million for a new grants round under the $125 million Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Million Minds Mission. The round will go towards rapid research designed to improve the national mental health system response to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Applications for grants of up to $1 million will open on 1 June with the research projects expected to deliver results within 12 to 18 months.

The federal government is also investing $10.3 million to support three research projects to help reduce the rate of suicide in Australia.

The three projects will research the prevention of suicide in boys and men, the use of the internet as the first point of contact for care, and suicide prevention among men in early fatherhood. 

In 2018, suicide was responsible for 12.1 deaths per 100,000 people in Australia, with 3,048 suicides recorded in that year.

"Every suicide is a tragedy and devastates families, friends and loved ones," said Minister Hunt.

The federal government will also invest $6.725 million to support research on the use of pharmacogenomics in providing more effective treatment options for Australians requiring medication for mental health challenges.

Pharmacogenomics looks at how genetics can affect a person’s response to certain drugs.

"While psychological strategies are usually the first-line in treatment of mental illness, medications can be an important part of a treatment plan, with almost 10 per cent of Australians now regularly taking antidepressants," said Minister Hunt.

"However, a significant number of people do not respond positively to their first prescription, causing delays in improvements to their symptoms and sometimes exacerbating anxiety."

Studies suggest that antidepressant treatment response is significantly influenced by each person’s specific genetic profile, and delays in improvement of symptoms can potentially be reduced through predictive pharmacogenomics testing.

This $6.75 million in funding, under the Medical Research Future Fund’s Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research initiative, will allow four leading researchers to investigate how pharmacogenomics can be used to tailor mental health prescriptions to the needs of each individual and improve health outcomes.