27th TheMHS Summer Forum

TheMHS mercure hotel

Mercure Hotel, Sydney 2017

By Grant J Everett

How can our mental health system deliver authentic person-centred care? How can it enable personal choice and control among the people who access our services and those who support them? How can people and organisations continue to thrive? These were some of the big questions addressed by 26 speakers from all over the world at this Summer’s international TheMHS Forum.

Ed Mantler, Vice President of Programs and Priorities for the Mental Health Commission of Canada, informed us that half a million Canadians will miss work this week due to Mental health issues Another major drain on productivity is “Presenteeism,” which is what you call it when somebody turns up to work, but their performance is severely impacted by a mental health issue. This is a real issue in Australia, too, because merely being at work doesn’t mean a worker will get anything done. Physically turning up is only half the issue.

Eddie Bartnik is the Strategic Adviser on Mental Health for the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA). If anybody was going to be able to share the exciting and terrifying realities of the NDIS rollout, it was Eddie! Ten years in the making, the NDIS is the biggest of its kind in the world, and this detailed plan has being hammered out into a uniform shape across the entire country. He stressed that despite the scale, everything was going as planned. However, a major influx of peer support Workers will be necessary if we want to be able to deliver on all the promises of the NDIS, so it’s lucky that Flourish Australia – among many others – have been massively recruiting these essential cogs.

Peter Gianfrancesco is the NSW State Manager of Neami National. Peter was a major contributor to the development of the NDIS, and he made it clear that most Australian non-government organisations need to shake things up, to try new things. We need to find ways to actively reach more people rather than focusing on the ones we already reach.

Frank Quinlan, the CEO of Mental Health Australia, had some unsettling numbers to share: 690,000 Australians experience severe mental health issue each year. 230,000 will require individualised support. However, there are only 64,000 places in the NDIS. With limited spots, the need to invest in early intervention and prevention becomes even more important.

Sarah Johnson, an actuary of the NDIA, confirmed that despite some questions about its long-term financial sustainability, the NDIS is projected to cost 1% of our Gross Domestic Product, around $16 billion.

Kim Ryan, CEO of the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses, called for unity between mental health experts, for them to get on with the job, rather than bickering and competing.

Friday got off to a good start with an address by Dame Marie Bashir. Dame Marie spoke about some of the widely-held erroneous beliefs that people have had about mental health issues over the years, about the importance of suicide prevention, and how she’s seen young people come into the mental health system suicidal and hopeless, and then gone on to achieve great things. Dame Marie has been a great friend to our organisation for many years now, and has been involved in many of our annual general meetings, the launch of Flourish Australia, and she’s also known our CEO, Pam Rutledge, for decades.
Multiple reforms to our mental health frameworks have resulted in a complex knot that the NDIS will hopefully reset. Although changing the way everything has worked for decades may be daunting, soon the NDIS will establish a uniform system across all states and territories. Will this lead to better outcomes for people living with mental health problems and their families? And how can we all navigate our way through these systems.

As we begin a new era that classifies individual recovery as something flexible, something that is defined differently for each person, we need to ensure that this new model isn’t just the old one dressed up in different pyjamas. This is going to be accomplished, in part, by encouraging people to not just have informed choice and control over their own lives, but to also have power over the services and programs they need. There needs to be REAL choice available, not just a veneer. Targeted funding into a new-beaut system will have a major impact on individuals, but unless they can exercise self-determination, it won’t work. We have come a long way despite the fact that our system is incredibly risk-averse.

It’s amazing that some things still need to be repeated, especially by professionals who should know better: clinical language is bad when it places a barrier of understanding between the clinician and the person accessing the service. Services always need to be people-led, and we people need to explain things in recovery-based language. These are all basic precepts of a recovery model, but something that far too many people still don’t get.

New funding strategies are driving new systems of mental health care. How does an organisation plan for and manage its workforce? What are the outcomes for people with lived experience who need these services?

Ken Thompson, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry for the University of Pittsburgh, wrapped up the Summer Forum in a memorable way, Ken was impressed by the way the other speakers acknowledged the Gatigal people of the Eora nation and paid their respects to Elders past and present, as Ken has never attended a conference or forum in his home country where the Native American people were respected in such a way. Ken went on to say that he is going to encourage his colleagues to promote the same attitudes when he gets home.



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