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Current Trends & Shifts in Australia’s Mental Health Care Sector

Australia’s approach to the mental health care sector still has a way to go, but there has been – and continues to be – some positive shifts and trends. 

You may be surprised by how much research goes into the state of Australia’s mental health care sector. Although these studies vary in approach, there are some common consistencies they find, being that our mental health care is often:

  • fragmented
  • full of gaps
  • unclear
  • complex
  • not focused enough on the needs of mental health care patients

These kinds of findings, like the ones from the National Mental Health Commission’s 2014 Contributing Lives, Thriving Communities report, form the basis of how we as a nation address our mental health care policies.

In a recent webinar, John Hurley – Professor of Mental Health Nursing at Southern Cross University – addressed some of the major trends and shifts we’re currently seeing within our nation’s mental health sector landscape.

1. The step care program (and the need for specialisation as a result)

There’s been an increasing shift towards viewing mental health care needs as a step system, which patients can move up and down throughout their journey. This takes away the view that mental health is something people either suffer in severity or not, instead perpetuating the more accurate view that it’s a spectrum that applies to people at all different levels.

For example, one person could require acute mental health care at one point in their life. After receiving necessary hospital care, this may lower the acuteness of their needs, so they may be able to move down a step to a less critical level of care. From here, they may continue to move down or up.

This shift means there’s more room for professionals to become specialised regarding each level of care. Most graduates working within the mental health care industry, according to Professor Hurley, are more generalised in their expertise. But the more we understand mental health care as a spectrum with touch points relating to the level a patient is at, the more need we have for specialists who can focus on each individual step.

2. Plugging the gap between physical and mental health

For too long, physical and mental health have been too far separated. According to Professor Hurley, someone suffering from severe mental health problems here, in Australia, has an average life expectancy of 15 years less than a comparable individual not suffering that same mental health care problem.

This is often because mental health problems can cause chronic physical health care conditions. Depression has been linked to a 67% increased risk of death from heart disease and 50% increased risk of death from cancer.  There are numerous factors that influence the connection between mental and physical health, such as lifestyle choices and long term health conditions.

3. Greater career opportunities for specialised mental health care workers

The health sector is already booming in Australia, being one of the top three industries providing employment. The aforementioned focus towards a step care program diversifies the already broad number of career opportunities available within mental health, in particular for those with more specialised skills and knowledge.

This can include jobs within the field of education (as many schools are being asked to do more mental health preparation with their students), community support workers and facilitators, peer support workers, consumer and care consultants, housing officers, employment offices, and police liaison officers, to name a few.

Southern Cross’ Master of Mental Health has been designed to equip graduates with the specialisations they need to address the changing trends in Australia’s mental health care sector. Created with input from multi-disciplinary physicians, mental health consumers, mental health academics, and more, this is a well-rounded course that can benefit anyone wanting to fit the criteria of newly emerging career opportunities, and help contribute to the positive shifts that are already affecting Australia’s approach to mental health care.

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