Extra support for mental health

In the face of a projected 42% shortfall in mental health workers by 2030, Flinders University is rolling out an innovative project aimed at expanding the reach of quality mental health services – focusing on under-serviced regional, rural and remote areas in South Australia.

Funded by more than $3.8 million from the federal Department of Health and Aged Care ‘Pathways to Practice’ program, the initiative seeks to attract, train and retain a new generation of more than 300 mental health professionals, including psychologists, occupational therapists (OTs), mental health nurses and social workers, to bolster the mental health sector.

Project leader Professor Chris Brebner, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Curriculum Impact), says the initiative is underpinned by collaborations across Flinders University, drawing on strengths across mental health disciplines, and ‘hub and spoke’ approaches to mental health training that will enhance the state’s workforce capacity and increase opportunities for more students to take up training in these fields.

“This approach aims to create a stronger pipeline of future mental health workers by training more students in non-acute mental health service settings, thereby encouraging them to enter the mental health sector upon graduation,” says Professor Brebner.

Coordinator Ms Natalie Papps has returned to South Australia to lead the new project at Flinders University after a career in OT and work on solving health workforce challenges in Victoria. Her team of clinically trained interprofessional placement development officers will forge strategic alliances with both new and exiting business and government partners to tackle barriers and facilitate more viable models of placement delivery.

Interprofessional Placement Development Officer Natalie Papps and Janie Fisher with Associate Professor Lydia Woodyatt at Flinders University’s main Bedford Park campus.

“The goal is to increase the number of mental health clinicians by enhancing numbers of student placements across South Australia, including areas like Mount Gambier, Barossa, Renmark, Murray Bridge and Victor Harbor, while also contributing real support to clinicians working in those communities,” says Ms Papps.

“This funding initiative provides key resources to further facilitate regional placements for students, enabling telehealth supervision and providing specialised supervisor training.”

Inter-professional chief investigator, Associate Professor of Psychology Lydia Woodyatt, adds the project includes a wide collaboration of Flinders University staff from the Colleges of Education, Psychology and Social Work, College of Nursing and Health Sciences and College of Medicine and Public Health (Rural Health) and Work Integrated Learning departments.

“We want to be part of transforming mental health and wellbeing across South Australia and to fearlessly tackle the mental health workforce shortage as a key part of our mission,” says Associate Professor Woodyatt.

“In the past two years, for example, Flinders has doubled the number of postgraduate places to provide more opportunities for students wanting to become registered psychologists – in part through the introduction of the Masters of Professional Psychology.

“This new funding will consolidate the progress we are making and further enhance our capacity to provide opportunities to train in psychology as well as occupational therapy, mental health nursing and social work.”

Recent engagement with student placements in rural and remote areas through the National Disability and Insurance Scheme (NDIS) supports the project.

The new pilot project fits into the wider 10-year National Mental Health Workforce Strategy which aims to fill the demand for mental health services which are outstripping supply and workforce professionals unevenly distributed across Australia.

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