UnitingCare welcomes mental health reforms

person sitting in shadowAustralia’s mental health system will be overhauled as part of sweeping reforms announced by the Federal Government on Thursday.

The reforms were a response to the National Mental Health Commission’s report released in December last year.

According to the commission, as many as 690,000 Australians live with a “severe” mental illness.

One of the main recommendations from the report was making the mental health system more “person-focused”.

Federal health minister, Sussan Ley, said the new system will shift from the current “one-size-fits-all” approach towards a more flexible and personalised model of care.

A new tiered system will be implemented that separates people into four categories: at risk, mild, moderate and severe mental illness. A healthcare professional will determine what category a person falls into, and therefore what level of care they require.

People with severe and complex mental illnesses will have access to an “integrated care package”, similar to packages offered by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). This will be tailored to a person’s individual needs and includes a range of services.

UnitingCare Australia national director, Lin Hatfield Dodds, said the reforms are an important step in supporting a more integrated and personalised mental health system.

“Investing in mental health reform will not only improve the lives of many Australians, it will increase our productivity,” she said.

“UnitingCare Australia supports the reorientation on spending to focus on the needs of the individual, a preventative approach, early intervention models and community based services rather than a system dominated by the acute setting.”

A major finding from the commission’s report is that Australia’s mental health system suffers fundamental structural shortcomings. Vulnerable people are often left to navigate a complex and fragmented service system.

As part of the reforms, more than 30 government-funded phone and online services will be consolidated into a single helpline for people living with mental illness.

There will also be a greater emphasis on supporting localised services. This involves redirecting funding from emergency intervention in hospitals to primary health networks and community-based programs.

“It’s good to hear the government acknowledge that the fragmented nature of the current system needs to be addressed,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.

“A localised approach has the capacity to tailor services more appropriately to the needs of the community. UnitingCare Australia believes it is critical to distribute resources on the basis of need and ensure that those living in rural and remote communities are not forgotten.”

Ms Hatfield Dodds welcomed the government’s announcement that a new school-based initiative covering early childhood to the end of secondary school will be rolled out from 1 July 2016.

“A positive outcome of the government’s commitment to preventative services is the announcement to address the mental health needs of children, particularly through schools,” she said.

“This is an area that has been poorly resourced in the past.”

The reforms have been generally well received by Australia’s mental health sector. However, many are still waiting for details on how the changes will be implemented and whether additional funding will be required.

“In order for the government to realise its aims these services will need to be supported, funded and monitored to ensure the consumers are receiving the services they need at the right time and in the right place,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.

The reforms will be rolled out over a three-year-period between 2016 and 2019.

Image by Stefano Carso via Flickr.

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