Major issues found in mental health sector

Mental health in Australia is under the microscope this week, after the release of a new 10-year health strategy. Here's what it says
Mental health in Australia

A national taskforce evaluating the mental health workforce has found shortages in most mental health-related jobs.

It also found several gaps in frontline treatment services and the training of psychologists.

The findings form part of a 10-year national strategy for the sector, released today, coinciding with World Mental Health Day.

It called mental ill-health one of Australia’s “most pressing health issues”.

Mental health in Australia

Estimates show almost half of all Australians over 16 experience mental ill-health in their lifetime, while 20% will experience mental ill-health in any given year.

Australia’s mental health workforce includes people working exclusively in mental health, like psychologists and psychiatrists, as well as those whose work includes supporting patients experiencing mental distress – like GPs, social workers and nurses.

The taskforce

The Federal Government assigned a taskforce to investigate the mental health sector in 2020.

The taskforce identified “an urgent need to grow and create a well-rounded and responsive mental health system across Australia” as demand for mental health services increases.

However, it flagged “several challenges associated with growing and sustaining the mental health workforce… to meet the needs of all Australians”.

Mental health findings and strategy

The taskforce was asked to draft a long-term national strategy and identify areas for improvement in the mental health workforce.

It found several shortfalls including “acute shortages” of workers in regional and rural areas.

The taskforce found the workforce is subject to negative workplace culture. Issues including burnout, employment instability, and a lack of career progression contributed to this.

What were the recommendations?

The taskforce put forward a 10-year plan to attract and retain mental health workers across Australia.

It recommended better resourcing of the social and emotional wellbeing workforce. This includes social workers, alternative therapy providers, First Nations mental health workers and Lived Experience peer support workers.

The taskforce suggested more Australians could access care by integrating these workers into existing systems.

They also proposed several measures aimed at retaining staff in the sector, including improved wages, long-term employment contracts, paid training and upskilling opportunities.

It also flagged a need for better working conditions and support for staff, saying the stress caused by “workplace violence, abuse and aggression” could cause “high levels of fatigue and burnout”.

The taskforce also proposed incentives to attract more workers to remote areas.

Federal Government response

Australia’s governments, and education and health bodies, will be asked to meet yearly objectives to meet the strategy’s targets.

The Government has made an initial $91 million commitment to improving psychology training in Australia, including 500 new places for postgraduate psychology students and funding for 500 internships for psychologists entering the workforce.

The commitment also funds an additional 2,000 subsidised training places for supervisors to oversee psychology internships.

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