Conjoint Associate Professor Martin Cohen is a long-time advocate from within the system for people who experience mental illness. “I know the sector very well from working in the public and private sectors. I understand the pushes and pulls that make things happen,” says Dr Cohen, who until May 2016 was Executive Director of Hunter New England Mental Health and a member of the Executive Leadership Team of the Local Health District, where he is now a board member. He is also a board member of the Hunter Medical Research Institute and joint Managing Director of Asclepius Health. In his role as Deputy Commissioner he will use that health system expertise to help the Commission further progress the implementation of Living Well: A Strategic Plan for Mental Health in NSW 2014-2024.
As a psychiatrist, Dr Cohen hopes to be able to work with representatives from the clinical disciplines to further embed a person-centred, community-focused perspective. “There certainly has been a lack of understanding of the actual reform process in some sectors of the medical and allied health professions,” he says. “People feel somewhat defensive about the work they’ve done. I will be a voice for the evidence base, and bringing people along to understand how important these changes are. The emphasis has often been on in-patient public mental health services, and we need to put more focus on community-based services to deliver a coherent clinical message.”
Dr Cohen was a leader in the early development of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) pilot site in the Hunter region, working with community managed organisations to ensure the system responded properly to the needs of people with a psychosocial disability as a consequence of mental illness. “When the NDIS landed there really were no operational guidelines,” he says. “I set the tone for the positive engagement there is across the district now. I believe the NDIS is a great thing for people with a mental illness.”
Dr Cohen’s professional passions are the mental health and social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal people and physical health support for people who experience mental illness, who die up to 20 years earlier than other people. He is also interested in professional education for clinicians in rural areas, and in the promotion of good mental health and prevention of mental illness through close relationships with the Primary Health Networks.