Connecting Sydney’s leaders to discuss opportunities in the mental health sector

We recently hosted an evening in Sydney with mental health and co-design leaders to discuss mental health reform and the ideas and opportunities that excite us when looking at the future of the sector.

Earlier this year, we met with leaders in Melbourne to discuss the mental health industry, the sector reform, and general interests in the space. This time we held a dinner in Sydney to continue the conversation about how we can promote positive change in the mental health sector.

We aim to facilitate events like this to connect like-minded individuals, learn what their organisations are doing to uplift the sector, and provide a platform to communicate the latest insights and share common learnings.

Why we host these events

Mental health matters

At Portable, we believe that it is our responsibility to seek out and respond to social needs and policy change in order to make a truly positive impact on our society. For more than 15 years, we have been using our design, technology, and range of strategic expertise to co-design solutions directly with the people who experience the problems. 

Our work is driven by key impact areas where we believe we can make a difference and Mental health is one of those areas for us. 

We recently collaborated with the Victorian Department of Health’s Mental Health and Wellness division along with 4 other mental health service providers in Melbourne to provide co-design coaching and guidance while designing the new Child and Youth Hospital Outreach Post-suicidal Engagement (CY-HOPE) service for children and young people who have self-harmed or are at-risk of suicide. This work was awarded Gold in the 2022 Better Future Melbourne Design Awards, recognising the 'innovative solution design for the successful delivery and provision of services'.

Creating collaboration through conversation

The main purpose of facilitating this event was to bring everybody together and dedicate some time to talk about mental health reform as well as the challenges and opportunities that exist in the space.

We surveyed all attendees and have put together some insights and learnings to help promote awareness of these topics.

Insight: What pressing issues can be solved through co-design, service design and technology?

This is an area Portable is passionate about. To respond to this need, we have recently launched the Ethical Human Centred Design principles program; a tailored human-centred design and co-design training and coaching program to up-skill teams to deliver co-design projects in-house. More information about this program will be made available to the public in the near future.

1. Embedding digital solutions in service design

Many attendees felt that this was a key priority, with examples such as ensuring service waitlists are clear and people and customers are updated of their progress to keep them engaged throughout their journey. 

Using digital solutions to improve some of the common challenges experienced when looking to ensure the continuing of care, such as when an individual is constantly referred to a new specialist without traceability of resolutions, which can then exacerbate mental health concerns.

2. Co-design focused on youth and early years

Including the importance of focusing on the early years to promote social and emotional development of young children while working across sectors and with families while considering peer-support services for young people to promote service readiness and handover between services for long-term support.

Leaders raised the challenge that evidence-based tools and services being used in schools today do not adequately consider the exponential growth in technology and the impact from this on children who are growing up in this environment.

3. Improved service design as a means of prevention

Prioritising early intervention as a key driver for mental health reform while increasing the investment into clinically-validated mental health tools which aim to improve the quality assurance of mental health technologies was considered an invaluable opportunity to minimise the impact on the mental health of at-risk individuals and their families.

4. Equitable access to information and treatment

Many leaders agreed that the ability for an individual to access their own information promotes self-determination and may lead to a feeling of control over the future of their mental health.

Offering individuals access to, and choice of a range of effective treatments for mental health conditions was also considered an important step in promoting mental health reform across the nation.

Insight: What impact has the last two and a half years had on innovation in service delivery in the mental health space?

Nearly every aspect of the way we live, work, rest and connect with others has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and one thing that intersects all of those things is our mental health.

According to the World Health Organisation, the pandemic triggered a 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide. Because of this, the last few years has seen individuals, businesses, and even entire governments reflect on how to better protect and support our mental health and wellbeing.

1. New hybrid models of care

Many felt that the move to telehealth was a prime example of the innovations that had been made to the service delivery in the mental health space, particularly for those experiencing physical hardship, disability, or those located in regional areas.

Leaders are confident that blended models of care will continue to grow so long as we demonstrate value in using digital and face-to-face services in this manner, particularly as virtual and digital tool acceptance by those we seek to support continues to grow. 

2. Challenges in changing delivery of programs

The pandemic meant that health has had to be agile and respond quickly and dynamically to mental health needs. Sometimes too quickly and true co design does not end up happening.

A real positive impact of the pandemic has seen more integration between mental health services and other health services -  highlighting a greater need in mental health for a broader part of the population and the need for wellness initiatives across the population.

Insight: What role does engaging those with a lived experience of mental illness have in policy and service design?

Co-design and human centred design methodologies are expanding. Simply including organisational stakeholders in the creation of services that seek to support individuals across sensitive subject matter can lead to biased outcomes or services which fail to meet their goals.

1. Lived experience is critical

The majority of attendees agreed that lived experience co-design is widely considered critical to ensuring the success of genuine reform and positive outcomes across the mental health sector, with many projects being set up with a panel of lived experience advisers.

2. But there are significant challenges

Procurement was noted as a fundamental challenge for those seeking to co-design services with those who had lived experiences. The lack of time and budget for recruitment along with the need to provide paid incentives for those genuinely engaged can make this process difficult.

The degree to which people's views are appropriately modelled when considering services or policies is still considered inconsistent and may lead to fundamentally unreliable insights which may fail to guide the outcomes in the most appropriate manner.

There is relatively less representation of people with complex issues e.g. (psychosis, addiction) and there is little whole-of-government representation of these groups in key areas like housing, social services.

Leaders also raised that the power relationship between a person employed to give a lived experience perspective and a health providing entity must be carefully balanced, in order to preserve the true perspective and voice of those with lived experience.

It was an insightful event...

But it doesn’t end with one evening of discussion.

We believe events like these are absolutely critical to driving change in the mental health space, bringing together a diverse group of passionate people can speak the co-design of community-led solutions that can lead to positive and tangible impact in our society. 

The first step is assembling the right people to drive outcomes. 

We look forward to many more events such as this in the future and would like to thank our guests from the NSW Ministry of Health, NSW Mental Health Review Tribunal, Reachout Australia, Mental Health Commission of NSW, Parenting Research Centre, SANE, Mission Australia, The Black Dog Institute, Batyr, and Beyond Blue.

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