THERE’S a piece missing in our mental health system, Professor Patrick McGorry said.
The headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation board member, who was in Bendigo on Wednesday for a forum, likened the treatment of mental ill-health to those available for people with cancer.
“It's like if you had cancer and you said, ‘We're going to treat simple, early stage cancers and we're going to treat people who are dying with palliative care, but anyone in between, sorry, we're not interested’,” he said.
Professor McGorry said headspace clinicians often struggled to help patients between those two extremes because they couldn’t provide enough care.
“If they try to refer them to the so-called specialist system its got a thing called triage which is designed to keep people out, not get people in,” he said.
“It only allows people in when they’re in absolutely life-threatening situations, and even then only for short periods.
“It's not to criticise the people working in those services, they're just not well enough funded or supported to do the work.”
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But there is opportunity for change, which lies with the nation’s 31 Primary Health Networks.
A reform has empowered the PHNs with funding, which the professor said could be used to strengthen the existing resources and invest in the specialised help that is missing.
“They’ve been given money by the federal government for something called youth severe [mental health services], which has to be built into the headspace model,” he said.
“The resources have to be used very carefully and build on the platforms we’ve already made.”
More specialised help for complex problems such as psychosis, eating disorders, complex mood disorders and drug and alcohol disorders is what’s needed, Professor McGorry said.
“We have really good evidence-based treatments in psychiatry and mental health, they’re just not being offered to people at the right time and in the right place,” he said.
“We also need research to create better treatments, too.”
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He called on people to demand and expect action from their parliamentary representatives on mental health “like they do with cancer and heart disease”.
“There are 4 million people in Australia every year that experience mental ill-health,” Professor McGorry said.
“They think awareness and having a conversation is enough. It’s not. We’ve got to force policy makers to invest, to make sure the care is there.”
The forum involves headspace centres, lead agencies, youth reference groups and consortia partners.
Their discussions aim to inform the changes coming as part of what the professor described as an “incredible wave of reform and innovation” centred around developing youth-friendly mental health care.
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Also presenting during the first session were 2015 Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations Shea Spierings and headspace chief executive officer Jason Trethowan.
Mr Spierings said education was at the heart of many issues young people had raised with him during his time as a representative.
He wanted to see the system become more “holistic and comprehensive”.
“Educating people to understand themselves better... how their bodies work… how society operates around them in relation to others,” he said.
The issues for many young people Mr Spierings had met, “whether they’re in jail or university”, related to whether or not they felt they fit into the system.
“The outcomes we achieve from dialogue are actually empowering young people to become the people they need to be to create change and support others around them,” he said.
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headspace chief executive officer Jason Trethowan said early intervention was “absolutely critical” to helping young people with mental health issues.
“Improving integration of headspace centres with other services at a regional level - such as primary mental health care, state child and adolescent, alcohol and other drug services - will coordinate and deliver the right interventions for at-risk young people.” he said.
Murray PHN has been in consultation with five headspace centres – Bendigo, Mildura, Shepparton, Swan Hill and Wodonga – since late last year to discuss possibilities to improve the model of care for young people experiencing mental ill-health.
Those five centres received 12,670 visits in 2016.
“We are working closely with Orygen and headspace to ensure young people receive the right care, in the right place and at the right time,” Murray PHN executive director Anne Somerville said.