More to do on mental health | The Australian

Mon Apr 29, 2013

THREE years ago Australia had reason to be proud as the political landscape rallied behind mental-health reform. While there was debate about the detail, there was finally real recognition of the value of community-based services for people living with a mental illness and the need for major investment on this front.

To ensure that mental-health dollars are spent effectively, we've seen the creation of a National (and more recently a NSW) Mental Health Commission, complementing a commission existing in Western Australia. We've also seen the development of a National Partnership Agreement on Mental Health Reform where the commonwealth and states jointly fund new mental-health services.

These national investments acknowledge the importance of reaching out early to people with a mental illness early, and improving the availability of housing, education, employment and social supports. While we applaud new resources starting to flow into community-based programs, we need to be mindful of budget pressures in our public-health system that can put essential clinical support services at risk. Good community-based care needs good clinical backing.

As one of Australia's leading mental-health not-for-profit organisations, RichmondPRA provides community-based support for people with a mental illness, including accommodation support, employment opportunities and simply extending an encouraging hand.

Our Young People's Outreach Program in Western Sydney, for example, reconnects young people with education and community life and supports their families. This is done in partnership with psychiatrists, psychologists and nurses in the public mental-health sector. Participants in this program are 80 per cent less likely to need acute hospital services. But reduce any of these elements and the young person's recovery is put at risk.

RichmondPRA's Women and Children's Program gives mothers experiencing a mental illness safe and stable accommodation and support, enabling them to recover with their children by their side. One young mother who came to the program with her one-year-old son had escaped a violent partner and "couch-surfed" through several houses across Sydney. She hit such a low point that she called 000 from a public phone, fearful of what might happen to herself and her son. An ambulance took her to the local hospital. Hospital staff contacted the women and children's program where an incredibly rare spot was available. Over the next three monthsshe got back on her feet with a healthy balance of day-to-day support with life's challenges, parenting support and specialist clinical care. She is now on her feet, caring for her son and living a meaningful and independent life.

One in four Australians will experience a mental illness during their lives, be it anxiety or depression or a psychosis including bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia. It may be our own of that of a loved one. It's a national priority that we back political commitments with funded plans to be sure the mix of community and clinical care is right. This would be a worthy focus now that the country is in election mode again.

Pamela Rutledge is chief executive of RichmondPRA, a community-based service provider for people living with mental illness.

>> Source: The Australian