Push for UK mental health link model

Taelor PeluseyBusselton Dunsborough Times
VideoThe $110 million will finance programs run in kindergarten, primary and secondary schools.

Experts say a UK concept linking health and support services could pave the way for more integrated mental health care across regional WA as alarming new suicide statistics paint a bleak picture ahead of Mental Health Week.

Data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last week show 3128 Australians took their lives last year, marking an almost 10 per cent increase from 2016 to 2017.

Figures also show suicide is now the leading cause of death among people aged 15-44, prompting calls for an immediate shake-up of the mental health system.

Among those advocating for change is Margaret River’s Lisa Chatwin, who lost her daughter Tahlia Stoveld to suicide last May.

Ms Chatwin said she felt let down by the system and was dismayed by what she described as poor communication between organisations and agencies, an unwillingness for services to listen to family members who had experienced Ms Stoveld’s previous psychotic episodes, and a lack of State-funded psychiatric beds.

“We need to be linking every service together — police, health, mental health, private mental health, clients and loved ones,” she said.

Murdoch University mental health lecturer Robert Battersbee said he believed there was much good work happening in mental health but conceded the system was “fragmented”, with ever-changing funding models at State and Federal levels exacerbating the issue.

He said the UK method of using “link workers” — mental health workers linking primary and secondary care services — could help.

It would not be without its hurdles, with primary care being funded by the Federal Government and secondary by the State, but Mr Battersbee said it was already occurring in informal ways and a rethink of existing services could make it happen without huge financial requirements.

Youth Focus community engagement general manager Chris Harris recently completed a 12-month stint in the UK and said link workers there were having positive effects in remote areas.

He said regional WA could benefit in a similar way.

“In regional areas, services can be quite disparate due to geography so the idea of link workers is that they … help to coordinate engagement with multiple agencies,” Mr Harris said.

“It’s kind of a no brainer that we need to regroup, think smarter with the resources that we have and look at … a more integrated service and an easier way to navigate multiple systems.”

Mental Health Week will be marked in WA next week, with World Mental Health Day on Wednesday.

Mental Health Week encourages people to support each other, promote discussion and raise awareness. For information, go to thinkmentalhealthwa.com.au.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide phone Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you or someone you know needs help, phone SANE Australia Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263). Young people seeking support can phone beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or go to headspace.org.au

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