Former Australian of the Year Professor Pat McGorry has called for a “fair go” for people suffering mental health problems.

Speaking at the WRAD annual general meeting, the world leader in youth mental health care said the cost of not providing fair treatment for people with mental illnesses was far greater than providing adequate care.

Professor McGorry encouraged the community to advocate for equality for people battling mental illnesses.

“We’ve got to show politicians and the media that people care. The community has to demand change and make it a political imperative,” he said.

“Mental health is looking for a fair go in funding but we’re not getting it at the moment. Sadly mental health is low on the health pecking order. It’s an `us and them’ situation, but it shouldn’t be that way.

“People with mental illness deserve the same access to quality care as people with any other ill health.”

Professor McGorry is the Executive Director of Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, professor of Youth Mental Health at the University of Melbourne and Director of the National Youth Mental Health Foundation (headspace).

He is also involved in the new campaign Australians for Mental Health which aims to give a voice to ordinary people affected by mental health to “end this madness”.

About 100 people attended the AGM at the Warrnambool Art Gallery on December 10.

Professor McGorry said the Federal Government’s latest plans for mental health had the right idea but offered no new investment.

“The direction is right, but where’s the detail and where’s the extra funding,” he said.

At the moment only about 11 per cent of people with mental health illness get access to the minimum quality care they need.

Professor McGorry said he was particularly concerned about the impact of mental illness on young people and those “in the prime of their lives”.

“An investment in youth mental health is our best buy in health care,” he said. “Some dismiss it as teenage angst and say they will grow out of it, but many need help and the outcomes will be worse if they don’t get it. At the moment only about 25 per cent of young people get the help they need.”

It is predicted that mental illness could cause up to 35 per cent loss of productivity in Australia’s economy.

Australia should aim for a zero suicide rate, Professor McGorry added.

He also advocated a culture of care that is welcoming, provides a suite of care, doesn’t stigmatise mental health and can deal with more complex conditions.

Professor McGorry said mental health could learn lessons from cancer care. “Cancer isn’t cured but the outcomes are better thanks to preventative actions, early diagnosis, and sustained treatment,” he said.

Professor McGorry was named Australian of the Year in 2010 for his work in mental health, with a particular focus on youth.