Flinders leads project to change face of SA mental health care

Dr Ian Goodwin-Smith is Director of the Australian Centre for Community Services Research, which is a collaboration between Flinders University and AnglicareSA.
Dr Ian Goodwin-Smith is Director of the Australian Centre for Community Services Research at Flinders University.

A new research project launched yesterday aims to provide a blueprint for better and more sustainable mental health care provision in South Australia.

The project, Mental Health: Exploring Collaborative Community Reform in South Australia, will be undertaken by the Australian Centre for Community Services Research at Flinders University in partnership with the Don Dunstan Foundation and the Mental Health Coalition of South Australia.

It aims to identify and explore the community mental health sector priorities for reform in South Australia and will seek out current barriers to the provision of cross sectoral service integration.

The three-stage project will also investigate the importance of sustainable accommodation and appropriate support in helping people live with mental illness.

It will include a literature review, one to one interviews with key stakeholders in the Government and community sector, and key stakeholders in community mental health reform and policy.

Community members who live with or care for someone living with mental illness will also be invited to focus groups so they have the chance to inform its key priorities.

With one in five Australians experiencing mental illness and a mental health ‘system’ described by the National Mental Health Commission (NHMC) in 2014 as “often ad hoc” and “with no clarity of roles and responsibilities or strategic approach reflected in practice” the South Australian project will play a key role in bringing much needed change.

Changes in recent years have seen an emphasis on the community mental health sector, reflected inthe share of State mental health expenditure on community based mental health services having climbed from 29% in 1993 to 53% in 2007. But the sector has voiced concern that more recently that the funding for available for community mental health services is declining.

The increasing importance of non-government providers in the delivery of inpatient and community mental health services was also recognised in the 2008 National Mental Health Policy (NMHP). However a range of initiatives to reduce spending have seen these non-government provided services decline in South Australia.

The integration of mental health support across non-mental health community services has been argued to be a vital link in improving the outcomes for those experiencing mental illness. The 2008 National Mental Health Policy positions this as a key reform priority in Australia.

The new research piece seeks, through a cross-sectoral lens, to talk about what has worked through the ‘Stepping Up’ journey and subsequent policies and plans; what we need to change; and what we need to start doing to support consumers on a true recovery journey to a contributing life.

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