Three great challenges for us all

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ABOVE: In the news; physical health, the benefits of belonging and suicide prevention are three big priorities. 

By Warren Heggarty

The NDIS makes it more important than ever before for Flourish Australia to be responsive to individual and community needs. At the beginning of his second year in office, Flourish Australia  Chief Executive Mark nominated three priorities: suicide prevention, social citizenship and physical health. 

1. Physical health

Regular Panorama readers would be aware that people living with serious mental health issues can have a lower life expectancy than the general population- lower by as much as 20 years or more. This can be seen as a measure of how our quality of life is reduced by mental health issues.

‘We can’t do mental health without doing physical health,’ says Mark. ‘If people’s physical health problems are because of things we can prevent then we should do something. That is why we have been encouraging conversations about physical health with the people who access our services. Ultimately the aim is letting people self manage their physical health. That includes things like cooking better food and being more active.’ 

‘It’s also an issue for health systems. When people have a mental health diagnosis, that often overshadows their physical health needs. We are working to help health services be more responsive to people with mental health issues.’

“Flourish Australia is making suicide prevention training available for everybody. So far, 325 people have undergone the training, a credit to everybody involved.”

– Mark Orr AM

How will we know if we are making headway with physical health? Mark says ‘If we could ensure that everyone connects with a GP regularly, then our job is done. It would ensure that serious health issues are picked up earlier.’  

2. Social citizenship

Flourish Australia has paid much attention to individual rights and responsibilities in its Recovery Action Framework. However that is not the end of the story. Society as a whole needs to change to enable people successfully to make their recovery journeys and enjoy full citizenship. 

‘We need to build a society in which people CAN recover,’ says Mark. ‘ We need to build the capacity and confidence of both individuals and organisations in the community. That means helping organisations to be safe, responsive and welcoming places for people with mental health issues.’

‘We want to counter the narrowing effect caused by the very idea of disability that excludes people because they are different. Disability is a way of viewing the world where you have an ‘in’ group and an ‘out’ group. Yet if every person’s experience is valuable, there is no benefit in having an ‘out’ group.’ 

‘We want to show to people that despite having a mental health issue, even if things seem to be going to pieces at the present, we say you are still a citizen and you still have inalienable rights.’ 

Flourish Australia’s Social Citizenship project team, led by Fay Jackson, General Manager, Inclusion, will consult fully with all stakeholders. Once there is a clear definition of social citizenship and all that goes with it, we will then need to engage with local communities. There will need to be relationship building by management. 

3. Suicide prevention 

‘The fact that we (Australia) had a slight rise in the number of people completing suicide last year made us stop and think,’ Mark reflects. ‘In 2017, 3,125 Australians completed suicide. That number is in the order of double the road toll. What do we need to do differently?’ 

‘So as always, we need to support people in distress to get them through that period, to dig deep into the well of hope, but there is more.’

‘We’re also developing resources. For example, a flow chart to guide new staff in what needs to be said or done, pocket resources, quick tips and other things to keep suicide prevention much more front-of-mind.’ 

‘Postvention is critical especially during the first three months following an attempt. This means actively following up a person’s progress to make sure they are continuing to do well.’ 

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