New research finds untapped potential in mental health funding approach in Australia

Centre for Social Impact

New research conducted by the Centre for Social Impact (CSI), in partnership with Zurich Financial Services Australia and the Z Zurich Foundation, has found that the current funding models for youth mental health services across Australia have untapped potential in improving issues such as staff burnout, high costs and disrupted service provision to young people in need.

The report, Mental Health Deep Dive, recommends a review of funding models to enable mental health practitioners to deliver holistic, long-term services to young people, and to engage in meaningful ways with young people who do not normally seek help. The report also calls for an increased focus on prevention and early intervention – something that is not always supported by many treatment-based funding models.

The report argues that prevention and early intervention represent our “best tool for reducing mental health impacts on individuals and costs and service delivery burdens on the mental health system”, in contrast with the current focus on high-cost crisis care services.

Linda Griffin, Head of Brand, Marketing and Community, Zurich Australia said, “The mental health emergency is the second, silent pandemic in Australia and in many countries around the world. Now is the time for the public and private sector to mobilise to promote positive mental wellbeing across society and particularly amongst young people.

“At Zurich, we believe in playing an active role in helping individuals improve their wellbeing. Through the various community programs we participate in, we see firsthand the positive impact that education and early intervention can have on individuals and on building resilience in society. We strongly support all advocacy, awareness and partnership efforts to improve the accessibility of prevention and early intervention models in our country.”

The research shows that effectively addressing the mental health needs of young people takes time because it requires proactive engagement, flexibility over standardised approaches, meaningful engagement, collaboration with other services and supports, and continual improvements in response to co-design processes.

However, the short-term nature of funding cycles, and the rigid specifications and requirements embedded in commissioning practices, do not typically allow for many of these critical opportunities. As a result, this leaves many mental health professionals unable to reach the people who are most likely to need support, with staff often concerned about meeting service demands and experiencing burnout.

“This research has highlighted that the most effective way to reach young people is through early intervention and prevention, where practitioners have the resources to find creative ways to talk to young people about their mental health and build strong relationships with them,” says Professor Gemma Carey, National Research Director and Program Lead at CSI.

“Our current funding structures are based on a traditional treatment-based and appointment-focused mental health service delivery model. The sector needs a review around funding to allow practitioners to build trusting relationships with young people – something which is highly difficult to achieve in the current environment.”

Dr Sarah Youngson shares these concerns in her role as a GP in Bridgetown, a rural town in south-west WA: “With three-quarters of mental health problems emerging in adolescence, it is critical that mental health services are appropriate, adequate and effective for young people.

“Currently, services are largely inadequate. Wait times are unacceptably long in many cases and services do not collaborate well due to funding requirements, meaning young people are often shifted from service to service with multiple retellings of their stories.”

In addition to documenting attitudes from mental health professionals in the sector, the research found that mental health supports based on prevention and early intervention contribute significantly to an individual’s engagement and productivity within the community, and that support services should be tailored to specific populations at higher risk of mental health conditions due to social inequities.

The research recommends that investing in prevention and early intervention is critical in preventing severe mental health conditions, and that funding models for prevention and early intervention activities should look different to crisis-based services.

Read the summary report here:

The research will be discussed by experts in a webinar in November. Register here:

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