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Why Scott Morrison Might Have A Point About How A Job Can Help People With Mental Illness

The social services minister was slammed for being out of touch but experts say he could be onto something.

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Social services minister Scott Morrison spoke at a conference held by the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) this morning, and had some interesting things to say about getting young people into work.

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Speaking about government funding for a $19.4 million trial to help young people with mental illness get into work, the minister for social services said:

"In the trial we're helping young people enter the work force and treat their conditions in the same time for individual placement and support program. A job is a prescription for a young person with mental health issues."

People got pretty angry about it on social media, describing his comments as insensitive and out of touch.

@BuzzFeedOzPol @BuzzFeedOz Over my medical career I've never written a prescription for a 'job'. Mental Health is a bit more complicated

Seriously. Minister for Social Services. Talking words in public. Had to check (twice) that isn't a parody account.

Scott morrison recommends "not being sad" and "have a mango" to people who are suffering from chronic depression

@McnairMira @slsandpet @ScottMorrisonMP I'd say a mental health expert would be best placed to help with mental illness personally.

I got a mental fever....and the only prescription....is [extremely Scott Morrison voice] gainful employment

Some people with mental illness thought his comments were ignorant.

Yo @ScottMorrisonMP thankyou so much for telling me work instead of taking medication for my mental illness. Silly docs don't know anything!

While others argued that his comments made some sense.

this has some sense, it's not a complete prescription but combating isolation with work and achievement is good https://t.co/hnNZi1Fb87

Scott Morrison defended his comments on Twitter, saying they were informed by prominent psychologist and founder of youth mental health service Orygen, Professor Pat McGorry.

@NMaconachie @McnairMira @slsandpet the advice regarding the positive role of employment came from Headspace and Pat McGorry,

So, how angry should we be getting at this? Well, mental health experts say the minister's comments could have been better expressed, but getting a job is a very important step for a young person with mental health issues.

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Professor Eoin Killackey is the head of Functional Recovery Research at Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, which was founded by Professor McGorry.

He told BuzzFeed News that employment is hugely beneficial for young people with a mental illness.

"In terms of educational interventions to help young people, there's probably nothing quite as powerfully normalising as getting a job," he said.

"With all the stigma around mental illness, whether they realise it or not, young people carry it around and it gets directed inwards. But going for a job and getting a job tells you that despite everything that you're going through, someone values your skills enough to pay you for it."

He adds, "That's not to say that if you get a job it will automatically cure you, but it does play a powerful role in one part of that."

Professor Killackey's research shows that young people with a mental illness really, really want jobs. They want to get into work, to live independently and to participate in their communities, but there are roadblocks for them in the system.

"Survey after survey shows young people with a mental illness, their number one desire is to get a job," he said.

Orygen's report, published in 2014, says despite young people wanting to work, employment and educational services often fail them.

"The systems that should prevent this from happening, that should support, guide and shepherd these young people through this transitional phase of their lives are broken," the report says.

Youth employment has been a big part of this year's budget. The government's spending $105.7 million over five years to improve outcomes for vulnerable young people.

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Part of the youth employment strategy (the program Morrison was referring to) is two trials costing $19.4 million to help get young people under 25 with a mental illness "who are at risk of disengaging from education and/or at risk of long term welfare dependency.

The announcement was welcomed by Headspace CEO Chris Tanti.

"At a time when youth unemployment is extremely high, it is critical we keep young people working and studying; this is especially true in rural and regional Australia where youth unemployment rates are at their highest," he said.

"Investment in programs that support vulnerable young people to stay engaged in education and employment will have significant benefits to the health and wellbeing of our community and its economic future."

Morrison also suggested more private investment in social services, using social impact bonds, who get a share in the savings if they deliver outcomes.

"Social impact bonds allow us to shift the financial risk of funding and delivering social services," he said.

BuzzFeed News has reached out to the minister's office for comment.

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