United Kingdom

Greg Hunt inspired by mother as 2021 Budget spends $2.3 billion million for mental health

Greg Hunt must be feeling some sense of satisfaction for his role in what will be a record $2.3 billion spend on mental health in the 2021 Budget - and it will have nothing to do with Australia's handling of the Covid pandemic. 

Once voted the 'best minister in the world', Mr Hunt was appointed the health portfolio in 2017 and helmed the nation's response to the coronavirus crisis. 

But what has long driven Mr Hunt's passion has been advocating for more support within the mental health sector, after his childhood was spent dealing with his mother's struggle with bipolar disorder.   

Mr Hunt has been open in detailing his late mother Kathinka's mental health battles and time spent in and out of institutions. 

One of his earliest memories is of Kathinka chasing him around the kitchen table with a carving knife.

In hindsight, he said he 'probably deserved it' and likely never told his esteemed politician father, Alan Hunt, about the incident.

Federal Greg Hunt (pictured as a boy with his mum) opened up about his mother Kathinka's battle with bipolar disorder

'She was laughing at the time. It was sort of funny with a bit of an edge, (and I was thinking) I better keep moving. I'm not going to test out being caught,' he told The Sunday Mail. 

On another occasion, her 'potentially life-threatening weapon' of choice was a five-kilogram salami she'd proudly hung on the kitchen wall that had grown mould.

Kathinka was a qualified nurse but also had a passion for growing and keeping her own food. But Mr Hunt said 'due to the nature of her condition, she was a little out of touch with modern food hygiene standards'.  

The last time Mr Hunt saw his mother, she was being treated in a mental health institution.

Since her death and throughout his political career, Mr Hunt has advocated for better support services within the sector.

On Tuesday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg revealed the 2021 Budget will implement a record $2.7 billion to the expansion of mental health support in Australia. 

Greg Hunt (pictured with his wife Paula) looks back fondly on his childhood and says it shaped him

Mental health advocates have long implored the federal government to dramatically increase funding.

An extra $500 million is expected to be pumped into the mental health sector each year, most of which will be delivered through commonwealth-run primary health networks.

The funding will be aimed at delivering services to regional and disadvantaged areas with acute mental health needs, as well as those most affected by fires, floods, coronavirus restrictions and high youth unemployment.

Throughout the pandemic, lockdown critics have questioned whether the measures introduced to stem the spread of the virus have been more harmful to the general population through isolating communities and limiting an individual's access to their support networks. 

Australia experienced a marked 15 per cent increase in Medicare-subsidised mental health services delivered since March 2020 as residents grapple with the ramifications of the tough nationwide Covid shutdown.

In total, the government provided more than 7.4 million services and spent more than $819 million funding the treatments.  

Now a father of two Mr Hunt's (pictured with wife Paula) work throughout the pandemic has been endless, but he's maintained that mental health must remain at the forefront of government spending and planning

But experts have warned the packages may only begin to claw back ground after years of funding shortfalls.  

Mr Hunt's work throughout the pandemic has been endless, but he's maintained that mental health must remain at the forefront of government spending and planning.

His own eccentric childhood and relationship with his mother taught him that the mental health conversation is complex.

Kathinka's diagnosis was 'not as difficult as some cases [but] more difficult than others,' and many of Mr Hunt's friends failed to realise she was unwell.

Friends thought she was 'quirky' and Mr Hunt recognised his mother as a kind and patient nurse who was generally outrageously fun - particularly at the height of her manic episodes. 

'There were all of the dark moments, which I think everybody knows and understands. But there were also the light moments,' he said.

Mr Hunt recognised his mother as a kind and patient nurse who was generally outrageously fun - particularly at the height of her manic episode 

He recalled his mother was emotional and affectionate. During her manic highs, she would drape herself in bright colours and daring prints, chat about any topic and become 'the life of the party'.

What followed was always an eventual crash. She would lock herself in her bedroom in the dark - sometimes for days on end - and drink alcohol to cope with chronic pain.

Mr Hunt, then just a boy and an only child, would try to coax his mother out of her despair by encouraging her to play cricket with him or making a cup of tea. He would try anything that had ever worked in cheering her up in the past.  

'We are all a product of our childhood,' he said.

'I can bet that I am the only person to have been chased around a dining room table with a mother wielding a five-kilogram mouldy salami as a potential life-threatening weapon. '

The 2021 Budget will be handed down by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (pictured) on Tuesday night, with major spending expected across critical government services

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