Draft report reveals more integrated mental health system needed across the region

Picture: Pexels
Picture: Pexels

A new draft report has revealed a more integrated and responsive mental health system is needed to reduce the impact of mental illness and suicide in the region.

The South Eastern NSW Mental Health and Regional Suicide Plan is the first to bring together the findings of a primary care organisation and local public health services, and aims to “provide a blueprint for collaborative action for mental health service development over the next five years”.

The report, released last month by Illawarra Shoalhaven, Southern NSW Local Health Districts and Coordinaire primary health network, found better communication between providers could be quickly reached via a shared delivery of services, especially in a region with “diverse geographic and population characteristics and needs”.

Over 102,000 people in South Eastern NSW “may experience a mental illness in any one year”, with 18,941 suffering from severe mental health issues, the report revealed.

High rates of self harm were noted in the Bega Valley, Eurobodalla and Goulburn Mulwaree regions, particularly within Indigenous communities, and the South Coast was revealed to have one of the highest rates of suicide in the state.

The report says the region’s limited local GP services and the need to travel to larger regional centres to access acute or specialised services including psychiatry and psychological therapies are “significant challenges” in dealing with the issue of mental health.

Positive news for the region is the recent launch of Australian youth mental health organisation Headspace in Bega, with outreach services rolling out across the region.

Headspace said the flexible model will have a regular presence across the region, which the new draft report says will improve “early intervention for young people with or at risk of mental illness”.

While the report noted “promising developments” in mental health service delivery in the region have been made in recent years, the lack of coordinated suicide prevention services and support for people at suicidal crisis in some parts of the region is of concern to the community and health professionals.

The report stated a lack of routine follow-ups after suicide attempts is an area which should be improved.

A lack of culturally appropriate mental health services for Indigenous residents and “overall a lack of holistic care which recognises non-health needs” are areas also needing improvement, the report found.

In order to help tackle these issues, the report’s nine key findings included improving coordinated care for people with complex and severe mental illness, creating “integrated planning and governance at a regional and local level”, providing services “across the spectrum of mental illness”, building a “collaborative and systematic approach to suicide prevention”, reducing geographical barriers to access to services and embedding a culture of collaboration and integration into the mental health workforce.

The report also found patients should be at the centre of planning, delivery and reviewing mental health services.