Many people with mental health problems are reliant on private providers for treatment, and in her new role Associate Professor Sharon Lawn (pictured) will be helping to improve the service and support they receive.
She has just been appointed South Australian Coordinator of the Private Mental Health Consumer Carer Network, which operates under the auspices of the Private Mental Health Alliance.
Associate Professor Lawn said that while the Network has an advocacy role in developing an agenda at a national level for improvement to services, it also acts as a conduit for information to members and ultimately to the doctors and allied health providers who treat them.
Representing a group of members in each State, the coordinators meet together twice yearly with the Network Chair Janne McMahon to discuss issues and concerns related to private sector mental health services.
The Network is frequently involved in consultation with government and, for example, has had significant input into the discussions about Disability Care Australia.
Associate Professor Lawn said that while private psychiatrists keep up-to-date with clinical developments, in some cases consumers, thanks to the Network’s newsletter, may be more aware of available services than their doctors.
“It’s a case of shared learning,” Associate Professor Lawn said.
She said an important part of the Network’s role is to help in overcoming the isolation experienced by people with mental illness, and their families and carers, who receive support in the private system.
She said consumers and carers, especially in rural and remote areas, can be very isolated. While family members often carry the burden of providing practical day-to-day aspects of care, some do not have direct access to the treating psychiatrist or doctor.
The Network also organises events such as the recent national forum on borderline personality disorder held at Flinders, that drew on the results of the first national surveys of people with the illness and their carers.
“People with borderline personality disorder and their families still have tricky and challenging experiences in getting support in public and private systems,” Associate Professor Lawn said.
“All the issues of fragmentation and communication problems that exist in the health system in different populations and services can be seen in their stark focus in mental health.
“The issues are serious, far-reaching and very complex, and compound with other things in people’s lives.”