Day 1 Highlights from 2023 Equally Well Symposium
Federal Assistant Minister McBride opens 2023 Equally Well Symposium
The process to establish two peak bodies to help improve government policy and decision-making in the area of mental health and wellbeing would begin this month, delegates at the 2023 Equally Well Symposium were told today.
Emma McBride, the Federal Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, and Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health, outlined the government’s plan to address disparities between the health and wellbeing outcomes of people living with mental illness and those of the general population.
During her opening address to the Symposium, Ms McBride said the peak bodies would focus on giving voice to people with lived experience of mental illness and their carers and those with lived and living experience of suicide. She said the government had recently appointed the Australian Centre for Social Innovation to work with the mental health sector to co-design the peak groups. This process should be completed in October.
“As you are well aware, the mental health and suicide prevention space in Australia is a complex one made up of a wide range of stakeholders,” Ms McBride said. “Some small. Some large. Some with quiet voices. Some who are loud.
“These stakeholders span a wide range from community fundraising groups to multinational crisis lines. And while these individuals and collectives do important work, we do need to formalise how government receives advice and counsel from those with lived experience. These two peak bodies will do just that. With the current progress we expect that there will be up and running by early next year.”
Ms McBride said the Federal Government had an ambitious agenda to improve the mental health and wellbeing of Australians. The framework for the agenda was based on improving equity and access, reducing the drivers of distress, and elevating those with lived and living experience.
One example was the roll out of the Head to Health service, a walk-in, no referral mental health service. Ms McBride said there were 12 such services operating at the moment, but the government planned to set up more than 60 across Australia.
Ms McBride congratulated the organisers of the Symposium, which will showcase important work taking place in the sector to improve the physical health of people with mental illness.
NSW Mental Health Commissioner calls for greater health literacy
Sixty percent of Australians have a low health literacy. This is a significant hurdle that must be overcome to improve national mental and physical health and wellbeing, delegates at the 2023 Equally Well Symposium heard on Day 1.
NSW Mental Health Commissioner Catherine Lourey said Australians needed to be better informed and educated about issues relating to mental health. More than 1.3 million people in New South Wales experience mental health illness each year. Based on the low literacy rate, about 780,000 of these people have poor health literacy, she said.
This meant improving mental health education and literacy should be a key state priority, Ms Lourey said. However, it was important that people with a lived experience of mental illness and mental health service providers were included as co-designers in any such programs to help ensure their rigour and effectiveness.
The key focus of the NSW Mental Health Commission is on improving the mental health and wellbeing of the state’s residents. Ms Lourey said although it was an independent agency, it could only perform this role by working collaboratively with other groups in the mental health sector.
Ms Lourey said a spate of natural disasters in parts of Australia in recent years, including severe droughts, bushfires and floods, had amplified the importance of mental health and wellbeing for many people and communities. Not addressing mental health illness would lead to dire consequences, she said.
The Mental Health Commission was involved in several partnerships to try to improve mental health awareness and wellbeing, she said. These included supporting HealthTalk, a project involving Equally Well, Charles Sturt University, La Trobe University and RMIT developing a series of consumer stories and digital resources based on the lived experience of people accessing mental health services. The resources aim to offer a sense of hope and support to people with a mental illness.