One of Australia’s largest providers of mental health, homelessness and suicide prevention support services, Neami National, is calling for a renewed focus on community mental health services in New South Wales ahead of the state’s 2023 election.
The not-for-profit is highlighting the importance of community-based mental health services in response to the election priorities of NSW’s major parties, which have limited attention to these supports.
The Mental Health Coordinating Council’s (MHCC) 2022 report, Shifting the Balance, found that, despite increased funding in the 22-23 Budget, NSW has one of the lowest per capita spends in Australia to support people with mental health conditions. The report also found that the state has the lowest per capita expenditure on community-managed mental health services1.
Neami National CEO Tom Dalton said supporting the mental health and housing needs of the NSW population is more important than ever and should be a higher priority.
“We know that COVID-19, natural disasters, rising cost of living and the housing crisis continue to impact the well-being of people in NSW,” Mr Dalton said.
“Unfortunately, emergency departments have continued to be the default access point into the mental health system for too many people in distress, but often there are more appropriate supports available.
“Increasing the availability of easy-to-access mental health services delivered in the community better supports those in distress while providing ongoing wrap-around support to individuals living with mental health challenges.
“Community mental health services need to be prioritised for investment if we want to see a fully-equipped mental health system that relies less on hospital stays and emergency department presentations by keeping people well in the community and ensuring no one who needs support slips through the cracks.”
Existing NSW government-funded community programs such as the Housing and Support Initiative (HASI) and Community Living Supports (CLS) programs are proving successful, with a recent three-year evaluation showing the programs are cost-effective, reducing hospital admissions and improving the health and well-being of participants.
The HASI and CLS programs, delivered by Neami in eight locations in NSW, supports individuals with severe mental illness to manage their mental health in the community and find secure, ongoing accommodation. Participants of the program are supported to address the full spectrum of their needs including support to find or retain housing, get a job or engage in education, navigate complex systems including Centrelink and the NDIS and address legal issues.
Prior to the election Neami National is outlining four priorities to ensure long-term sustainability of services and consumer need is met:
- Ensure sustainable funding structures are in place for community-managed services, including adequate indexation to keep up with the rising cost of living and inflation as well as longer and more stable contracts, ideally of four-five years, to provide certainty to consumers and workers.
- Ongoing and broader investment in HASI and CLS programs, a proven model that for more than 10 years has demonstrated consistent and positive outcomes for consumers.
- Investment in more affordable and social housing for people who are homeless, especially those with higher vulnerability including rough sleepers, victims of family violence and older women, and individuals who experience significant mental health concerns.
- Investment in community mental health workforce and strategies to address current workforce shortages and ensure we are able to respond to growing demand, including further recognition and development of the peer workforce and improving the attractiveness of mental health as a career option.
Neami National will share further information with NSW Government parties to increase awareness and understanding for community-managed programs and solutions.