What did we say at TheMHS and IMHC?

On pages 16 and 17 we gave an overview of Flourish Australia’s extensive involvement as Gold Sponsor at this year’s TheMHS Conference. Well, we also had a voice at the International Mental Health Conference just before that. Here’s a closer look at what our presenters had to say.

A psychological FitBit?

Presentation: “Stepped Care: a need to embrace change with innovative and pragmatic person-led mechanisms,” by Grant MacPhail (Senior Policy and Planning Co-ordinator, Flourish Australia)

In collaborative environments, such as Partners in Recovery or stepped care programs, we tend to have cooperation between not just different services, but different ways of thinking. In this “co-design” environment all stakeholders get a say (individuals, hospitals, mental health services etc). But how do we prevent and remove power imbalances? Also, how can we generate an evidence base that satisfies all the different approaches, and which also satisfies the government when they decide where to allocate funding? Grant MacPhail’s presentation generated some vibrant discussions on the topic.

How do we generate evidence that suits both psychosocial and medical models?

‘The medical approach has one strength in that it can easily generate a valid evidence base using quantified research methods,’ Grant told Panorama. ‘Getting an evidence base to support psychosocial ideas is a challenge.’

So how do we generate evidence that suits both psychosocial and medical models? For example, how do we observe a person with mental health issues without hospitalisation?

‘There is technology available which can warn people of impending episodes of unwellness,’ Grant explained. ‘The technology is actually able to analyse itself. There are “wearables” which you could call “psychological fit bits”.’

These wearable gadgets can actually monitor a person’s signs without needing them to go anywhere near a hospital or laboratory setting. The information gathered by these gadgets can also be corroborated with stories, interviews and diaries. Grant calmed our fears about the potential downsides.

‘You might wonder about data security. However, future improvements in technology are likely to address and minimise these concerns. Besides, the benefits are phenomenal! They allow us to help ourselves – it’s not just person centred approach, but a person led approach to wellness.’

An early screening tool?

Presentation: “Second stage development of an early screening tool for the detection of vulnerability to developing schizophrenia or related conditions,” by Kate Ball PhD (Senior Evaluation and Research Co-ordinator, Flourish Australia)

Speaking of tools which can warn people of impending problems…

Before Kate Ball attended TheMHS 2017 she presented a paper to the 18th International Mental Health Conference on the Gold Coast. She spoke about an early screening system that entirely avoids the concept of “thought disorder”, a diagnosis that is both at the heart of the medical model and conflicts with the person-centred nature of recovery as we know it at Flourish Australia.

‘The signs that we look at are everyday innocuous items which are not necessarily associated with mental illness,’ Kate explained.

Kate has been working on this screening tool with her PhD supervisor for some time now. Although their research involved “axons and myelin sheaths” and other neurological phenomena, what makes this tool interesting is its ability to predict future unwellness. Looking at 600 individuals, Kate found 13 enduring traits that could be used to predict whether a person would or would not have a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The tool had an impressive accuracy rate of 85%. None of this research involved any mention of “psychotic symptoms”.

‘We have re-jigged the research that’s already been done so that we can do a longitudinal study of young people,’ says Kate. ‘That way, we will be able to compare people with or without these 13 traits as they develop over time.’

Individual Capacity Building

Presentation: “An innovative funding model of individual capacity building,” by Kate Ball and Sean Fitzgerald

In order to put a human face on her research presentation, Kate was accompanied by Sean Fitzgerald for her talk at TheMHS 2017. Kate spoke about how the way funding is provided often seems to be deficit focused, and the way its funding works means that people – like Sean – can face roadblocks to their recovery if they don’t recover in “a straight line”. Sean had an opportunity to speak about his recovery experiences and answer questions.

“…an individualised approach that goes beyond the very basic of needs’ and allows people to be supported in exploring their hopes and dreams.”

‘Life is messy and people change their minds,’ Kate explained, arguing for more flexibility in service delivery.

Kate and Sean advocated “an individualised approach that goes beyond the most basic of needs”, as this would allow people to remain supported while they explore their hopes and dreams. Kate hopes that further research will provide more evidence to support the need for a more flexible funding approach. This would ensure that people in Sean’s situation are able to continue accessing essential services.

Warren Heggarty

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