CEO Update - Guest Blog by Barry Sandison, AIHW, Mental health data matters

Mental Health Australia CEO Frank Quinlan is currently on leave and has invited colleagues to provide a guest blog each week. These blogs are the views of each guest blogger and not the opinions of Mental Health Australia.
This week’s guest blog comes from Barry Sandison, Director (CEO), Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Mental health data matters

As the CEO of Australia’s national health and welfare data agency, I am heartened by the demand for data and evidence to determine whether we are making a difference for Australians with mental health issues.

The mental health data reported by the AIHW provides consumers, carers, service providers and governments with powerful insights into Australia’s mental health support system. By collating a range of information from across the sector and making it accessible to a wider audience, the AIHW is able to provide an overview of Australia’s complex mental health support system.

The National Mental Health Strategy, which has evolved since the 1990s, has driven a national level understanding of mental health and improvements. A number of initiatives in information development and reporting have seen an improvement across a range of issues within the mental health space.

More specifically, over the last five years the AIHW has worked with states and territories to develop the first national data set relating to the use of seclusion and restraint events across Australia. As the use of seclusion and restraint can be distressing for mental health consumers, the long-term goal has been to reduce and eliminate the use of restrictive practices. However, no data was previously available to describe the use of such practices across Australia. Since this data was first published in 2013 we have seen the seclusion rate decrease nationally, emphasising the impact of access to such information. In a continuing effort to reduce the use of restrictive practices in the mental health sector, this national data were published for the first time in May 2017. I am optimistic that this reporting will lead to a similar decline in the use of restraint in coming years.

Looking forward, there is currently an initiative underway to develop a third edition of the National Mental Health Information Development Priorities. This will provide an opportunity for mental health stakeholders to set a 10 year agenda for mental health information development about issues that we can’t currently monitor and report on. By focusing on the long-term availability, analysis and use of information, this initiative will help drive the national effort to improve the mental health support provided to Australians with mental health issues.

‘A Contributing Life: As developed by the National Mental Health Commission in 2013 to guide the support for Australians living with a mental illness’

I would like to thank Frank for the opportunity to contribute to his blog and demonstrate to his readers the role that data has in building the evidence for better decisions that ultimately will result in improved health and welfare for all Australians. Hopefully, I have convinced you of the ability of mental health data to bring about change and you will see data and statistics in a new light. Further information about the Institute’s mental health data activity can be found at or here.

Barry Sandison
Director (CEO)
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

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