Establishing the Office of Mental Health, suicide prevention and keeping young people well are the priorities for the new Mental Health Advisory Council, according to its chair Gavin Bussenschutt.
The Council met formally with the Minister for Mental Health, Shane Rattenbury, for the first time last week and would now meet twice a month initially and work on a position paper that will be put out for public comment.
Mr Bussenschutt, who runs Wellways mental health programs in the ACT and NSW, said the new office was expected to be in place next year and provide an overarching structure to drive and coordinate services.
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The council would also contribute to the development of a mental health and wellbeing strategy that would help to identify any gaps in the system.
He said it was hard to say if people were falling through the cracks. “The reality is there is a very strong demand for people who are acutely unwell,” he said. “There is also the opportunity to look at how resources are allocated to get a sense of where the demand is and where resources can be allocated to support people to stay well in the community.”
He said there were offices of mental health operating in other jurisdictions but the Government was still weighing up which model to adopt.
“We’re looking at existing models and what’s going to work well in the ACT, the needs in the community and providing and supporting the strategies and work plans for the ACT,” he said.
The council would give direction to Government on where resources could be best allocated and the models that should be used. “In some places they take on commissioning role where they actually tender out the services to be delivered,” he said.
Mr Bussenschutt said the Government was also examining how to how to better integrate the expanding suite of ACT services with that offered through the federally funded Primary Health Network.
“The Government is looking at how it can work closely with the PHN to ensure a really coordinated, integrated approach to how the different services being funded can work together,” he said.
“There are clinical services funded through ACT Government, community providers that provide integral supports, programs through the PHN, so it’s making sure there’s no duplication and that they are able to work closely to provide an effective suite of services to the community.”
He said raising general awareness was part of the big issues of prevention and early intervention, and the PHN played a key role.
“That’s the work the Government is looking to do with the PHN, so if you’re just starting to feel unwell you can contact your GP, and get the support you need each step of the way,” he said.
“The critical thing is working out what the balance is and how the resources are going to be best utilised so the system can best flex to the needs of the individual.”
On suicide prevention, Mr Bussenschutt said the council hoped to contribute to a long-term strategy that can support more early intervention and prevention, and also offer more help after a suicide attempt.
He said the Way Back Support Service, developed in partnership with Beyond Blue and delivered through Woden Community Service, had received additional funding this year to support people in the first few months following a suicide attempt.
Mr Bussenschutt said the Minister had stated clearly that youth mental health was a priority and was keen to see how those services could be embedded in the school system.
He said services such as headspace were available but there was still a lot of stigma associated with mental health, despite the fact that one in four people experience a mental health issue.
“People might be unwell and they may not feel comfortable seeking support so having the opportunity to get those services into schools will make them more accessible,” he said.
Mr Bussenschutt said the Minister had driven the move to establish an Office of Mental Health and seemed to understand the sector as a whole and what the needs are.
“Driving the Office of Mental Health forward creates that extra bit of structure in the ACT, and the opportunity to have a body that identifies needs and potentially drives the development of policy and implementation of that policy,” he said.
The other members of the council are Judy Bentley, Amanda Bresnan, Matilda Emberson, Abigail Fargher, David Lovegrove, and Sue-Ann Polden.