22 February 2016
(Private Members Statement, 16 February 2016, Legislative Assembly NSW Parliament)
Today I will speak about the great need for increased services and support across the inner city for people with a mental illness. I raised this issue in May 2013 and noted the excellent services provided by St Vincent's Hospital Mental Health Service and a range of inner-city non-government organisations working together with a dedicated New South Wales Minister for Mental Health and State and Federal mental health commissions. The November 2014 Commonwealth Mental Health Commission report, entitled "Contributing Lives, Thriving Communities", and the December 2014 New South Wales Mental Health Commission's "Living Well—A Strategic Plan for Mental Health in NSW 2014-2024" restate the findings of 32 previous reports published between 2006 and 2012: Our mental health system is focused on crisis and we must improve early intervention, prevention or community recovery services.
Sebastian Rosenberg from the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Centre summarised this in a report called "Mind the mental health gap", noting that Australia has failed to invest in alternative community mental health care since the 1990s, when many asylums were rightly closed. Rosenberg says that in New South Wales less than half of mental health hospital discharges include connections to community services within a week of discharge. He identifies this as the missing middle ground of community support. Mr Rosenberg states that these organisations receive approximately 7 per cent of Australia's mental health budget but are vital for the living skills, housing and employment support they provide. Increasingly, that includes specialist and clinical skills.
Mr Rosenberg also notes that we badly need short-term supported accommodation options so that people do not need to go to hospital or stay in hospital when they are not quite ready to go home. The mental health service at St Vincent's Hospital knows that respite accommodation is needed for six to 12 months in order to prevent many emergency department presentations. In my electorate an integrated approach to people with complex mental health needs is required to ensure that those who are homeless or living in social housing get the support they need. I recently met the Minister for Social Housing to discuss the need for the Housing and Mental Health Agreement to work properly. In recent debate I urged the Government to increase prevention and early intervention services as I had been informed that Housing NSW tenants did not receive early support due to limited communication between tenancy managers, health workers and police.
The New South Wales Government must advocate that Federal funding for the national health system be increased, not cut further. New funds must be directed to support people in their communities and within families, not just when they are in hospital. The Living Well strategic plan identifies the Inner City Cadre Project as an example of a mental health neighbourhood watch that encourages ground-up change to achieve mental health recovery. Programs such as this must continue and expand. Inner-city homelessness services play a vital role. We know that many of those who are sleeping rough and spending their days in parks and streets have some form of often undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. The Government must learn from the changes made through Going Home Staying Home, and ensure that funding for inner-city refuges and hostels continues, with specialist programs for women escaping domestic violence. I commend the partnership that has been built over several years between St Vincent's Hospital and homelessness service providers to better help vulnerable people.
The data shows us that we fail to meet the mental health needs of several groups that have higher suicide and self-harm rates and are more likely to suffer psychological distress. They include Indigenous people, refugees and migrants, young people, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community. The community organisations that work with these groups must be funded to provide informal support for groups and activities and be linked to specialist services. For my constituents it is vital that the Government continue to fund and support organisations such as Walla Mulla, the Wayside Chapel, Kings Cross Community Centre, Surry Hills Neighbourhood Centre, The Harris Centre, ACON, the Gender Centre, Oasis Youth Support, Buckingham House, Holdsworth Centre and Twenty-Ten. A huge amount of support happens within families, and I commend the commitment and love that carers give to their ill relatives and friends.
I am pleased that the Mental Health Commission supports the Urban Partnership for Integrated Inner City Healthcare and Wellbeing, linking the service providers who work with particularly vulnerable people. Based on the collective impact model, this group is developing innovative approaches to ensure that people do not fall through the cracks but get wraparound care. The massive gap between need and support remains, despite many reviews and reports. Both the Commonwealth and New South Wales governments have stated a commitment to improving mental health and support services. I urge the Government to follow these commitments with action, funds and ongoing support.