The NSW Mental Health Commission travelled to Armidale this month to meet with local community members and services and hear how changes to the mental health system are progressing.
As part of the visit, NSW Mental Health Commissioner Catherine Lourey and fellow Commission staff hosted morning tea for people who live with mental illness and their families at the Armidale Bowling Club. More than 30 people generously shared their experiences, including a couple in their eighties who are caring for their son and younger parents struggling to find the most appropriate pathway for their teenagers. Some of the issues people raised were similar to those experienced in other parts of regional NSW, including geographic isolation, an over-reliance on a ‘fly in fly out’ mental health workforce, and a lack of services, information and service coordination. People also wanted to talk to the Commission about suicide prevention, the need for more support and respite for carers, and concerns the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) did not suit the episodic yet chronic nature of mental illness.
Following morning tea, the Commission met with services on the ground including Hunter New England Local Health District. The District’s mental health team kindly hosted a tour inside the Clark Centre Mental Health Inpatient Unit and provided an update on planned telehealth initiatives that aim to improve assessments for people experiencing distress and reduce unnecessary hospitalisations. A large group of mental health staff from across the District met with the Commissioner and spoke passionately about service provision and mental health workforce issues.
Next on the agenda was a meeting with staff from Armidale Regional Council, who tabled a comprehensive youth survey and detailed the impressive work of the local youth advisory council. The Council’s team also highlighted local work to support arriving refugees from Northern Iraq.
The visit concluded with a meeting with the local mayor Simon Murray, key service providers, and academics from the University of New England.
The Commission extends sincere thanks to all community members and professionals in Armidale for making the time to meet with us and for so passionately sharing your experiences and suggestions. A report about the Commission's visit will be made publicly available on our website and distributed to local services and decision-makers.
The visit was one of four community visits the Commission undertakes every year to different parts of NSW, to hear about how the mental health system is working ‘on the ground’. Other communities visited in 2017-18 include Wollongong, Griffith and Wagga Wagga, and the Vietnamese speaking community of South Western Sydney.