Connecting mental health sector leaders to talk about the mental health reform agenda

We recently hosted an evening with mental health and co-design leaders from across the mental health sector. We got together to discuss mental health reform and the ideas and opportunities that excite us about the future.

Everyone once in a while we like to get together with people in our network and communities outside of a zoom meeting to discuss the big, complex and systemic issues facing our society today. So this month we decided to host a dinner to connect leaders from across the mental health space in Australia to talk about the mental health reform agenda. 

It was an opportunity to share what excites us, what frustrates us and even what we find daunting about mental health reform. We chatted about what a better future looks like in mental health care and support – and the ideas and opportunities that could get us there. 

Mental health is one of Portable’s key impact areas.

At Portable, we are committed to responding to social need and policy change opportunities in order to make a positive and tangible impact in our society. For the last 15 years we’ve been using our design, technology and strategy 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. Mental health is one of those areas for us. One of our recent mental health projects was with the Victorian Department of Health Mental Health and Wellbeing Division. We partnered with them and 4 mental health services in Melbourne to provide co-design coaching and guidance as they designed a 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. We also work regularly with Orygen, headspace and Beyond Blue. 

We recently hosted an evening with leaders from across the mental health space.

The main purpose of getting such an informed group of people together in one room was to talk about the future of mental health in Australia and the challenges with the reform agenda. But before we could do that, we asked everyone to reflect back on the last few years...

First we discussed what issues they were personally passionate about that they believe can be solved through co-design, service design and technology.

Many of the attendees talked about working with young people. Particularly 17-25 year olds when they are transitioning from student to working adult and are at risk of stress, anxiety and depression. As well as youth suicide prevention services and making sure mental health information and support is accessible to all young people. 

Others highlighted the importance of designing mental health services with people with intersectional lived experiences. Such as: 

  • Ensuring we elevate the voice of lived experiences and share the power of decision making.
  • Making sure we take into account structural disadvantages such as colonisation, racism, classism, homophobia and transphobia that result in poor mental health.
  • Seeking out a better understanding of the mental health needs of neurodivergent, autistic people with complex needs.

We’ve seen an increasing trend of organisations seeking to embed a co-design practice within their way of working. We’ve moving away to a once-a-year evaluation project towards co-design being a core part of the service design approach for every project. 

To respond to this need, Portable has recently launched 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.

Next we asked attendees how they thought the last 2 and a half years has sped up the 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. 

Many of them highlighted the increased digitalisation of care and services. In particular the wide-scale adoption of tele-health practices such as online appointments and programs. Some attendees celebrated this as a success in making mental health care more accessible. While others highlighted that this uptake in digital tools has resulted in some older Australians being left behind. 

Other people mentioned that the events of the last few years have increased the appetite for change in the mental health space. With more media attention and funding for mental health people were interested to see how the welfare sector, mental health sector and health more broadly could better work together.

But attendees also acknowledged that the last few years have sped up the pace of change and demand in the mental health space. With many feeling like the pace of innovation had become unsustainable and relentless for those that worked in mental health services and shined a light on the vulnerabilities of the systems we currently use.

Our attendees also commented on the strategic priority to co-design with lived experience of mental ill health being contradicted by procurement policies that haven’t yet caught up. Restrictive procurement often reduces leaders opportunity to genuinely engage with lived experience due to project budgets and defined outcomes being prioritised over ambiguity of cohorts requirements and innovation. 

Next, we asked attendees to tell us which action/recommendation from The Royal Commission into Victoria's mental health system they are motivated to work on in the next 12 months.

Although it was tough for many people to choose just one! The common response from the  Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System were:  

  • Improving access to treatment, care and support through digital innovation.
  • Providing better support to parents beyond evidence-based programs.
  • Looking after the mental wellbeing of older Australians with the same breadth and priority as the mental wellbeing of other age groups.
  • Supporting and improving workplace mental wellbeing strategies and tools.
  • Growing the lived experience leadership in the mental health space.
  • Co-designing with impacted communities, particularly young people.

And finally, we asked attendees which recommendation in Design and Technology from the The Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System they believe will make the greatest impact for Victorians.

The group’s top 4 choices from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System were:

  1. Establishing a responsive and integrated mental health and wellbeing system
  2. Driving innovation in mental health treatment, care and support
  3. Helping people find and access treatment, care and support
  4. Facilitating translational research and its dissemination

It was an insightful evening, but it doesn’t stop there.

But it doesn’t end with one evening of discussion. We believe events like these are so important 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 it. 

We are grateful to our guests from across the Victorian Public Sector, Mind Australia, Better Place Australia, headspace, Orygen, Beyond Blue, YLAB, Right Lane, the Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council Inc, SANE Australia, Parenting Research Centre and the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition.

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