Q: Why do we need a Strategic Plan for Mental Health in NSW?
A: People who experience mental illness, and their families and carers, have told us they do not get support when and where they need it, or the right type of support. We have a hospital-centric system without enough community-based services. We also know that to stay well and connected in their community, people need a home and a job or other meaningful activity as well as having their mental health needs addressed.
In addition members of the workforces who deliver services to people with a mental illness have told us systems need to change. We need the Strategic Plan because it sets the vision for how these needs will be met and how the changes will happen.
Q: What are the most important reforms?
A: The Plan calls for
- ensuring that people with lived experience of mental illness or caring for someone with mental illness are to be at the heart of service system design and delivery and that individuals have the opportunity to choose their own care and how they want to live.
- recognising the capacity and responsibility of individuals and local communities in addressing the whole spectrum of mental health and wellbeing.
- shifting NSW from a crisis and hospital focused system to a prevention, early intervention and community focused system.
- enabling local communities to work together to plan and deliver services around local needs. This requires integrated effort across the Commonwealth, the state and the community.
Q: How detailed are the actions for change?
A: We say very clearly what needs to change and why. But it is up to government agencies and other service providers to work out how to make the detailed changes that will support broader reform. We will work with them through that process.
Q: Who is responsible for implementing the changes in the Plan?
A: While the Government is primarily responsible for implementation, it’s a big task that needs everyone’s commitment. It’s a shared responsibility, across government agencies and other organisations. For some people who experience mental illness, health care may not be their only or even their central challenge. Their bigger issues may be with housing, employment or the justice system. All those agencies and service providers will be involved.
Q: How did you come up with the actions?
A: At every step along the way we sought the contribution and feedback of others to make sure we were on track. We held forums and workshops and published discussion papers and briefing documents to allow people to comment on our ideas for change while they were still being developed. We considered all the ideas and information people shared with us. We believe the actions faithfully represent our engagement with the community and our government and non-government colleagues.
Q: How will I know if change is happening?
A: The Government has accepted the Strategic Plan and will put in place an implementation plan which will be overseen by a senior government committee.
In addition, Parliament has given the Commission responsibility for monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the Plan.
Q: When will we begin to see change happen?
A: While the Plan has a 10-year vision, many of the actions outlined are expected to be achieved within three to five years. However, some of the actions will have five to 10-year timeframes, such as ensuring the transition of people with a mental illness from long-stay hospitalisation to community-based care.
The release of the Plan marks a major shift in how we understand mental health and wellbeing and how mental health services are designed and delivered. It is as much about a cultural shift in attitudes to mental health as it is about services.
Q: I was part of the consultation but I don’t see my idea in the Plan?
A: We couldn’t have developed the Plan without the contribution from the community and our government and non-government colleagues. Every idea that was shared with us was fully considered and helped to shape the reform vision in some way.
The Commission’s consultation process across NSW was extensive, involving more than 2,100 individuals, agencies, community organisations and other stakeholder groups. The actions for change in the Plan embody the spirit of that consultation, including all the ideas gathered from meetings, letters and phone calls, and strongly reflect the issues raised and the changes that were called for.
The voice of lived experience was central to developing a strong plan of action that reflected the wishes of people who use services. The Commission will continue to ensure that the voice of consumers and carers informs all our work.
Q: If it is one Strategic Plan, why are there two documents?
A: The Commission prepared a companion Report to the Plan. The Report tells the story of mental health and wellbeing in NSW from the perspective of people who live here. Some people speak directly through personal stories and the voices of thousands more are embedded in the words on every page.
The Report also outlines the extensive consultation that took place and, in particular, describes through eight life ‘Journeys’ what it’s like living with mental health issues and engaging with the mental health system. It also tells the story of those working for change from inside the system.
Q: Why can’t we just open more hospital beds?
A: Because hospitals aren’t the answer. Most people who experience mental illness recover best if they are able to access the supports they need, of their own choosing, in their community and not in hospitals. We have to find new ways to organise services so that, just as with other health problems, you only have to go to hospital if all else fails.
Q: Won’t that be impossibly expensive?
A: Hospital is generally the most expensive and most restrictive way to care for someone with mental illness and should only be used when absolutely necessary. In NSW we rely on hospital more than any other state. That’s why the Plan talks about refocusing our effort towards growing services based in the community.
Q: Isn’t this just the latest in a long line of mental health plans?
A: No. This Plan sourced solutions by talking to the people who use and provide services, involving government and community-managed agencies, and thinking beyond just health to the whole person. The only aim is to build a mental health system that works for people. It’s a unique opportunity for real change.
The Government has indicated its commitment first by establishing the Commission and secondly by supporting the Strategic Plan. This Plan reflects the real needs and wishes of people who experience mental illness and addresses issues that span the whole of government and whole of community, which will carry a huge mandate for change.
Q: I don’t have a mental illness. What’s in it for me?
A: The Plan is also about securing positive mental health and wellbeing across the whole of the community. It’s also about the prevention of mental health problems. Most of us have been, or will be, affected in some way by mental illness – if not us personally, then our friends, family and other people around us. When we care for others in our community, for the collective good, we create an environment where mental health and wellbeing is everyone’s right and everyone can get the right help if and when they need it.
Q: How can I get more information about the Plan?
A: You can keep up to date by visiting the Strategic Plan section on the Commission’s website and by subscribing to the Commission’s enewsletter.