CEO Update: Disaster response must include mental health

Disaster response must include mental health

Last Friday, I attended a roundtable with the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development to support national planning for the recovery of fire affected communities through the National Bushfire Recovery Agency.

The breadth of representatives at the peak bodies meeting was impressive. Farmers, small business, and wildlife representatives to fire and rescue workers, healthcare professionals, scientists, and banks and insurance companies – the variety of represented sectors showed how much this disaster has affected every corner of Australian society. 

The good will present in the room was similarly remarkable – the sentiment of the meeting was communal and collaborative, with not a single pitch from one area of need over another. It really felt we were there with all levels of government to nut out what the next best steps might be.

Of course, during the meeting the environmental impacts of this disaster were glaring and unavoidable. The impact on the mental health and wellbeing of our country was likewise distressing.

Three thoughts developed in my mind as I listened to the toll this crisis has taken on the health and wellbeing of the Australian people.

The first is: this crisis highlights the urgency of further developing the mental health workforce. 

This is not news to our sector. It is something we have all been advocating for and recommending for some time. It is something the sector highlighted in Charter 2020 and it is one of the nine sections in Mental Health Australia’s latest submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health (which we will share with you in the coming days). 

Government deployed Army Reserves to assist firefighters and communities in the areas worst affected. At the roundtable, I asked the Prime Minister where our ‘Army Reserve’ is for the mental health sector. A trained and dedicated team ready to support and equip those affected and in need. Maybe providing entire communities with Mental Health First Aid training is a start.

Borrowing mental health workers from different areas to support towns affected is unsustainable, especially when so much of Australia is affected at once. What happens to people with mental illness back home when their mental health workforce leaves them to support a crisis?

The second is: we need a National Emergency Response Framework that includes mental health. 

We need a clearly outlined response, researched, developed and ready to go for the next time this happens. The outpouring of money and support from the Australian people has been incredible to see and be a part of, but this is an unsustainable source of funding. 

Governments need a framework to support millions of families trying to rebuild on insurance payouts that barely begin to cover the clean-up of damage done to their properties let alone to “build back better”. 

Such a framework needs to include a plan to support the physical and mental health and wellbeing of Australians. A proactive, not a reactive, plan.

And my final point: what are we going to do differently next summer? 

When the inevitable smoke from (hopefully far less catastrophic) bushfires seeps into towns from September this year, likely bringing further property and environmental damage, how will we manage the mental health and wellbeing of those communities? Highly traumatic memories and emotions for people affected this season will appear as they have for people impacted by the 2003 Canberra fires, 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, and indeed reminded me of life as a country kid living through the Ash Wednesday fires so many years ago in 1983 (showing my age!).

The ramifications of this harsh season on the mental health and wellbeing of the Australian people will extend well into the future. Our plan for the future response and adequate supports has to start now and extend even further. 

The word “resilient” has been used frequently of late to describe the Australian people. 

We are a resilient people – the response of the nation to this crisis has shown that. But resilience is not the same as stoicism, and being resilient does not negate the need for help. 

Kind regards,

Melanie Cantwell
Acting CEO


Embrace Multicultural Mental Health News

The Framework for Mental Health in Multicultural Australia (the Framework) is a free, nationally available online resource which allows organisations and individual practitioners to evaluate and enhance their cultural responsiveness. It has been mapped against national standards to help you meet your existing requirements, with access to a wide range of support and resources. 

Embrace Multicultural Mental Health (the Embrace Project) has been holding free workshops around Australia across 2019-2020 to support implementation of the Framework by mental health services, Primary Health Networks, individual practitioners and others. The workshops provide an overview of the Framework and explore how it can be tailored to best meet your needs and the needs of your local community.

Workshops for 2019 have now ended. Workshop dates for 2020 are listed below: 

  • ACT: Hellenic Club of Canberra, Phillip, 26 February 2020
  • WATechnology Park Function Centre, Bentley, 5 March 2020
  • NTMercure Darwin Airport Resort, Marrara, 26 March 2020

Please click here to register for a workshop near you. 


Mental Health News

Accredited mental health social workers ready to provide mental health support under new regime

The AASW welcomes the Bushfire Recovery Access Program that came into effect this week and will see people affected by the bushfires, including first responders, receive vital mental health supports. 

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Report shows increasing efforts by businesses to deal with mental health in the workplace

Ai Group has this week released a landmark study into mental health initiatives taken in local workplaces. The report looks at the nature of the initiatives, factors behind their success, the barriers they encounter along the way, and the results they generate.

Read more 

Beyond Blue welcomes Commonwealth funding for bushfire-affected early learning services and schools

Beyond Blue has welcomed the Commonwealth’s commitment of $8 million towards supporting mental health in early learning services and schools affected by bushfire. The funding package allows Beyond Blue to provide additional support to educators and staff working in early learning services and schools affected by the bushfire crisis.

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Rethinking interactions with mental health patients

New research overturns the belief that people with severe mental illness are incapable of effective communication with their psychiatrist, and are able to work together with them to achieve better outcomes for themselves. 

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Long hours putting pressure on mental health of doctors in training

The AMA is calling for urgent action to support doctors in training, with new research showing that long working hours and fatigue are putting the future medical workforce at greater risk of poor mental health and suicide ideation. 

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On Tuesday, Mental Health Australia is pleased to be holding an all-day Board induction session for our newest Board member Ashley de Silva, CEO of ReachOut.

Also on Tuesday, Harry Lovelock, Director of Policy and Projects will be representing Mental Health Australia at the Peak Bodies Bushfire Recovery Forum.

On Thursday, Melanie Cantwell, Acting CEO will be attending the National Medicine Policy Review preliminary working group meeting in Canberra.

Please note the Mental Health Australia office will be closed on Monday 27 January due to the public holiday, and reopening on Tuesday 28 January.


Member Profiles

The Mental Health Coordinating Council (MHCCis the peak body for community mental health organisations in New South Wales. MHCC has been supporting community based organisations to deliver services to people with mental health issues, their families and carers since 1983. They strive to raise the profile of mental health through their projects, submissions and by promoting partnership development.
Vision - People with lived experience are the drivers of positive change in all mental health services and mental health reforms.
Purpose - To build the capacity and ability of community organisations to support people on their recovery journeys.
Website - Facebook - Twitter -

Who: Led by Founder and CEO Elizabeth Venzin, Mindshift are a small but passionate group of industry leaders who donate theirtime and expertise with unrelenting dedication to promoting the importance of positive mental health. 
Mission: To help individuals, families, communities and workplaces recognise the importance of self-worth, to encourage preventative mental health intervention, and to offer support to the community through awareness campaigns, resources and public discussions. 
Vision: That a healthy wellbeing and positive mental health can be achieved by any person of any age and from any background.
Website: Facebook:



Public Interest Advocacy Centre: Mental Health & Insurance Project

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) provides legal advice and representation to individuals who have been treated unfairly, or discriminated against, by an insurance company because of a past or current mental health condition. PIAC does this work as part of its Mental Health and Insurance Project, which addresses systemic problems in the way insurers design, price and offer policies for people with past or current mental health conditions.

The project is currently focusing on unlawful discrimination on the basis of a mental health condition in the issuing of life insurance products, including income protection and Total & Permanent & Disability (TPD) policies.

PIAC may be able to offer advice or legal representation to those who have been affected by a decision of a life insurer to apply a broad mental health exclusion to their policy. For more information on PIAC’s work visit PIAC’s website. If a client has been affected by this issue they can contact Ellen Tilbury at PIAC (02 8898 6500) for a confidential discussion.

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Investigating the impact of NDIS market settings on participants with a psychosocial disability and providers

The type of providers, workforce and nature of supports traditionally provided to people with a psychosocial disability is evolving under the NDIS.This project will determine if differential market settings are needed to ensure providers are able to respond effectively, safely and viably to the unique needs of NDIS participants with a psychosocial disability.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services is leading this work in partnership with other states and territories, the Commonwealth Government, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.

Have your say by:

  1. Completing the workforce and provider surveys.  The workforce and provider surveys, developed for support workers, team leaders/supervisors and provider managers, will gather information on market trends, issues and impacts on the delivery of NDIS supports to participants with a psychosocial disability.
    • Workforce survey: This survey should be completed by workers providing direct support to NDIS participants with a psychosocial disability, and team leaders/supervisors of workers providing direct support to NDIS participants with a psychosocial disability.
    • Provider survey: This survey should be completed by provider managers and above, for example area managers.
  2. Participating in a workshop. A facilitated workshop will identify best practice in the delivery of supports to participants with a psychosocial disability and impacts of current NDIS market settings on achieving best practice. The workshop is targeted to provider managers and above.

Workshop Locations

  • Melbourne, 3 February 2020 (RSVP 13 January 2020)
  • Hobart, 5 February 2020 (RSVP 13 January 2020)   
  • Perth, 7 February 2020 (RSVP 13 January 2020)
  • Brisbane, 11 February 2020 (RSVP 21 January 2020)
  • Canberra, 12 February 2020 (RSVP 21 January 2020)
  • Sydney, 18 February 2020 (RSVP 28 January 2020)    
  • Darwin, 26 February 2020 (RSVP 5 February 2020)
  • Adelaide, 28 February 2020 (RSVP 5 February 2020)    

Please RSVP for the workshops to Julia Colcott via email ( by the identified RSVP dates, nominating one representative from your organisations management/leadership team.  

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TheMHS Conference 2020: Call for abstracts

Calling everyone who works in the mental health sector and wants to share their work! The 2020 TheMHS Conference is taking submissions of abstracts. If you have something you’d like to say about the landscape of mental health in Australia or New Zealand, if you work with a service or program, or are a clinician who sees potential for change, put your abstract in for a chance to present in Perth, Western Australia in August, 2020.

The theme is “Balancing the System”, which acknowledges a long history of mental health services not providing well for those with mental ill-health. However, as time progresses and attitudes evolve, it becomes clear that the way forward is to work toward systematic change.


  • Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre
  • 25 - 28 August 2020

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Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network: Tender opportunities

Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network (EMPHN) has the following upcoming tender opportunities. To receive notification and tender information, you must be registered on EMPHN’s eProcure portal. Registration is free. EMPHN are committed to delivering the right care, in the right place at the right time and are looking for innovative partners to work with them to achieve their vision of better health outcomes, better health experiences and an integrated health care system. 

Name of tender: Healthy Ageing Service Response

  • Description: The delivery of a Healthy Ageing Service Response to the whole of EMPHN’s catchment with a focus on older persons mental health and wellbeing. The service response is targeted for people aged 65+ years (or 55+ years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations) who live in the community or in Residential Aged Care Facilities. This new service response will have a focus on primary and secondary consultation, multidisciplinary care, collaboration and sector capacity building.
  • Tender release date: Late January 2020 (indicative)
  • Tender open for: 6 weeks
  • Services planned to start: July 2020 (indicative)  

Name of tender: headspace - Monash

  • Description: Establishment and operation of a new headspace centre in the City of Monash. headspace centres provide integrated healthcare to young people (aged 12-25 years) with mental health and wellbeing concerns. The headspace centre is planned to be operational by mid-2020.
  • Tender release date: Late January 2020 (indicative)
  • Tender open for: 7 weeks
  • Services planned to start: July 2020 (indicative)

Read more

Australian Psychosis Symposium 2020: “Re-wiring Circuits”

Bringing together a collection of experts from around the world, the Australian Psychosis Symposium aims to improve care for those affected by psychotic disorders, particularly schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. With cognitive remediation at the forefront of the Symposium’s agenda, learn the ways in which clinicians, researchers and policy makers can play a significant role in both altering perceptions about psychotic disorders and the outcomes for individuals living with psychotic illness.


  • 4 March 2020
  • Primus Hotel, Sydney

Read more



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mental health, community, policy, reform, bushfires, support