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Communique 31 January- 1 February

The National Mental Health Commission held its first meeting for 2013 in Sydney, New South Wales on 31 January and 1 February.

The meeting was a pivotal one, enabling Commissioners to continue to recieve feedback and comments from stakeholders and the wider community on A Contributing Life: the 2012 National Reoprt Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, which was released on 27 November 2012. It was also an opportunity for the Commission to review its progress, identify priorities and set direction for our second year of operation.

Visits to community and hospital based services

Visiting services and undertaking community engagement activities continues to form an integral part of the Commission's meetings, allowing the Commission to gather evidence and direct experiences that speak to the challenges faced by people in leading contributing lives and to highlight any improvements that are needed in the services and systems that provide support.

To maximise our reach in Sydney, the Commission split into three groups to visit a range of services:

  • Fairfield Community Mental Health Team, which offers culturally adapted services in a community setting and caters to a high ethically diverse population;
  • Karitane, a provider of parenting and family support services which includes Jade House, a specialised day unit for pregnant women or those with a baby under 12 months of age who are at risk of developing a mood or anxiety disorder;
  • NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS), which offers a range of interdisciplinary services to support people who have arrived in Australia from refugee backgrounds;
  • Common Ground, where Commissioners saw a 'housing first' model of community housing providing accomodation for the long term homeless and people on low incomes in inner city Sydney;
  • Annie Green Court, a facility managed by Mission Australia aimed at addressing the increasing need for permanent accomodation for Sydney's aged homeless, alongside psychiatric support and community particpation services;
  • St Vincent's Hospital and the Inner City Health Program based at the O'Brien Centre for Urban Health, where health professionals work together for more integrated patient care;
  • PreEmploy Institute, an employment preparation program in inner Sydney which operates as a mini-vocational training college and seeks to prepare participants for employment through a recovery focused model of training and support;
  • Buckingham House, where Commissioners met people with a lived experience of mental health issues who attended and are members of a day to day psychosocial program that includes external and in-house activities focused on health and wellbeing and fostering strong friendships and support networks; and
  • Ostara, an employment assistance program for people with disabilities based in Redfern where Commissioners heard about the difficulties people with disabilities (particularly psychosocial disabilities) face in finding and maintaining meaningful employment, especially in inner Sydney.

The Commission would like to thank all the services who hosted us and provided informative and diverse insights, allowing Commissioners to see a wide scope of mental health issues in Sydney.

Stakeholder Forum and Afternoon Tea

Our afternoon tea and community engagement forum was held at Platform 10 in redfern, a conference centre run by people with a lived experience of mental health issues. The centre was at capacity with close to 140 people attending including a strong presence from people with lived experience of mental health issues, their family members and other supporters who came to share their stories.

Some of the issues raised at this forum and throughout the day were:

  • feedback on the first Report Card and key areas where people wanted to see greater focus;
  • the effect that being released from care into homelessness can have on a person with a mental illness and the increased risk of suicide in these instances;
  • physical activity and exercise as a key component to reaching and maintaining a good level of physical health and self-confidence;
  • the difficulties faced in maintaining employment on a long term basis when living with a mental illness;
  • the high rates of comorbidity and effects of drug and alcohol abuse in inner city Sydney;
  • the importance of recognising individual differences in the provision of treatment for mental illness;
  • the need to incorporate the language of 'a contributing life' into higher education teaching and curriculum;
  • desire for consistency and certainty in funding of programs that are making a difference to people's lives;
  • mental health promotion, early intervention and prevention;
  • the need for better coordinated and integrated care and support; and
  • information, inclusion and recognition of families' concerns in the delivery of mental health services and where they believe their family member is at risk of suicide.

Commission Business

The Commission conducted its formal business over a working dinner on 31 January attended by the Hon. Mark Butler MP, Minister assisting the Prime Minister on Mental Health Reform and a full day meeting on 1 February.

Commissioners reflected on achievements during 2012 in discussion with the Minister, considering both informal and formal feedback on the first Report Card, as well as seeking advice on the outcomes of the last Council of Australian Governments meeting and its implications for the work of the Commission, including in the development of national indicators and targets.

Following on from these discussions, the next day was devoted to identifying the key elements and priorities in the Commission's 2013 work program, as well as the major themes of the 2013 Report Card. Commissioners considered how to continue to engage people with a lived experience of mental health issues and their support people, and the stategies to keep their experiences, feedback and insights at the heart of our work in shaping reform.

The Commission will announce the key themes and topics of the 2013 Report Card following our next meeting in Yarrabah and Cairns on 7-8 March.

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