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Mental Health Shake-Up

26 November 2015 at 11:41 am
Lina Caneva
The Federal Government has unveiled a major shake-up of the mental health system, which focuses on delivering individualised care and a dedicated national phone number to immediately access help.

Lina Caneva | 26 November 2015 at 11:41 am


Mental Health Shake-Up
26 November 2015 at 11:41 am

The Federal Government has unveiled a major shake-up of the mental health system, which focuses on delivering individualised care and a dedicated national phone number to immediately access help.

Part of the package would see people identified as needing complex care eligible to access a package of services "including comprehensive assessment and care-coordination support, psychological services, mental health nursing, drug and alcohol services, vocational assistance and peer support".

Federal Minister for Health, Sussan Ley, said the phone number would form part of a “one-stop-shop” digital gateway aimed at giving Australians easy access to high-quality mental health advice and resources when and where they need them.

“There were currently over 30 individual Australian Government-supported phone and online mental health services available to the public, which were identified by both the National Mental Health Commission Review and the Government’s Expert Reference Group as fragmented, confusing and difficult to access for people needing quick access to a specific support service,” Ley said

She said in response to the review the Turnbull Government would establish a single national mental health phone line that would direct callers to the appropriate phone or online mental health service they need.

It’s estimated between four and five million Australians suffer some form of mental health issue in any one given year, seeing it ranked the third largest chronic disease in the country, only behind cancer and cardiovascular disease.

The single phone line service is part of the Government’s development of a new “digital gateway” to help people with a mental illness navigate through the myriad of digital mental health services that are currently available.

In the last decade, there has been huge growth in the range of innovative digital mental health services offering a range of products from phone mobile applications that can help to detect the onset of anxiety to professional online counselling and psychological services where people can chat with mental health professionals in a discrete setting.

Ley said the Turnbull Government wanted to harness these digital innovations and provide the easiest possible access to people who may be seeking help.

“These are evidence-based services that deliver real help to people at a low cost. They are easily accessible and allow people who might not otherwise access services to get help in a private, discrete setting,” she said.

Ley said work would begin on the digital gateway this financial year (2015-16), and would be progressively rolled out from 2016-17 as part of the Government’s broader three year reform plan.

Chairman of Not for Profit beyondblue, Jeff Kennett, said the Turnbull Government’s plan was a defining moment for mental health care in Australia.

He commended Health Minister Sussan Ley for instigating structural reform by dismantling a badly-integrated system in favour of building a regional one that would work for people closer to home, wherever they live in Australia.

“It’s about time someone had the guts and foresight to overhaul the system to focus on the needs of people rather than providers. We need to get the maximum bang for our buck by spending taxpayers’ dollars where they have the greatest impact,” Kennett said.

“This is exactly the kind of leadership we need to help the three million people who at any one time have depression or anxiety, and the hundreds of people who attempt to take their lives or the seven who die by suicide every day in Australia – and their families.

“National leadership with a focus on regional planning and delivery is broadly what individuals and families have been demanding, and what the National Mental Health Commission has recommended.”

Director of the Black Dog Institute and Chair of NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention, Professor Helen Christensen, said she was pleased the Government had acknowledged the “very powerful” evidence that clearly demonstrated mental health programs need to be fully integrated into day to day life.

“We need a whole systems approach that incorporates education, prevention, early intervention, access to quality treatment and ongoing support where required,” Professor Christensen said.

“The new focus leads itself strongly to online and digital mental health solutions to ensure care is effective, accessible and tailored to the individual. Our online programs such as myCompass are already being used by thousands of Australians.

“The Black Dog Institute and others in the digital space wants to work with the government to advance the innovation agenda, most notably in areas where many young lives are lost (suicide) or impacted (depression).”

Christensen said mental health care would never be a “one-size-fits-all” portfolio.

“For this reason, we strongly support the shift towards community-focussed mental health initiatives,” she said.

She also welcomed the incorporation of Headspace and Primary health networks, saying this would strongly support a broader group of young people in all parts of Australia.

“However we are disappointed that the Government have not taken a stronger approach to the serious health issues around suicide, with considerable evidence-based programs available to be rolled out immediately,” she said.

Mental Health Australia CEO, Frank Quinlan, said it would take considerable effort to achieve successful mental health reform.

“The Government has provided us with a workable framework for systemic change, and realising this vision will now depend on the contribution of all players, not governments alone. The mental health sector stands ready to play its role as we start the reform journey,” Quinlan said.

“We are particularly heartened to see the Government adopting a ‘stepped-care’ approach to mental health, recognising the increasing access and intensity needs for the millions of Australians who live with mental illness every year, depending on their individual care requirements.”


Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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