Swinburne leads consortium to enhance mental health responsiveness in NSW

Swinburne University of Technology is leading a consortium with University of New South Wales (UNSW) and University of Newcastle to enhance the mental health understanding and responsiveness of community and health services in New South Wales.

Known as the Health Literacy Initiative, the consortium aims to connect the various providers of health services and develop capacity building education and training resources to enable practitioners to be better skilled and sensitive to the diverse needs of the community. The Commonwealth-funded initiative will also strengthen connections between communities and hospitals and other organisations that extend mental health support to optimise prevention and treatment of mental health issues.

Establishing a brains trust

The consortium is facilitating ‘Research to Practice’, online intensive workshops to co-design activities which will increase the impact of a mental health literacy approach and serve the needs of communities in rural, regional and suburban NSW. The program, which will run to June 2022, will ensure that the people of NSW have the best opportunity for good mental health and wellbeing outcomes, having the services and support they need to live a full life

“We are going back to the basics and really listening to people with lived experiences of mental health issues as well as their carers, family and kinship groups, to truly understand the what and why of people’s experiences,” says Distinguished Professor Richard Osborne, Director of Swinburne’s Global Health and Equity team who was engaged by the Mental Health Commission of NSW to implement this initiative.

The ‘Research to practice’ workshops bring together all parties responsible for the design, delivery and management of activities that generate the best possible mental health outcomes. The workshops host more than 120 people with lived experience of mental health issues as well as practitioners and managers of organisational responsiveness to mental health issues.

“We have heard from people that they want health environments that make them feel safe and respected. That when they reach out for help, they get the right information, provided in a way that makes sense to them, so they can be leaders of their own mental health journey. These workshops will give us an opportunity to gather rich information and ideas and turn them into actions that add value to people providing and receiving services,” says Commissioner of the Mental Health Commission of NSW, Catherine Lourey.

“The range of voices we’ve listened to in the consultation process has been really quite amazing, some have never had the opportunity to share their ideas or stories while others have never had a chance to have a voice about what has worked or could work better for them,” says Dr Shandell Elmer from Swinburne’s Global Health and Equity team.

“By ensuring that we’ve included these people, we have been able to look at existing problems from many different perspectives and gained new insights,” Dr Elmer adds.

Enhancing health literacy

Since early 2020, the Health Literacy initiative has been implementing Swinburne’s Ophelia (OPtimising HEalth LIteracy and Access) process.

NSW Mental Health Commissioner Catherine Lourey (at the podium) introducing the panel, which includes includes Swinburne’s Professor Richard Osborne (second from the left) and UNSW’s Professor Mark Harris at the launch of the Health Literacy initiative earlier in the year.

Ophelia is an innovative community co-design process which, was developed by a team led by Professor Osborne engages with communities, gathering information on factors, influencers, blockers and facilitators of mental health responsiveness of organisations.

The Ophelia process identified challenges for NSW communities to access information on the range of programs and options available within the State and of existing funding models with rigid eligibility criteria that restricts outreach.

“Combining global research findings with recommendations from workshops will cement this partnership between universities, workers and people living with mental illness to improve the everyday experience of people using services in NSW,” says Professor Leigh Kinsman, from the University of Newcastle’s Faculty of Health and Medicine.

“Research translation doesn’t get much better than this,” he adds.

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