CEO Update - From mental health professionals to Prince Harry

This week I was pleased to accept an invitation to speak at the Hobson’s Bay Mental Health Professionals Network in Melbourne. I was pleased to visit for a number of reasons.  

First and foremost, after a week of sometimes turgid budget meetings and analysis, it is always re-invigorating to touch base with the people doing the real work, on the ground.

Secondly, the invitation came from an old friend and colleague, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, who I was very fortunate to work with at the Australian Medical Association. He went on to be the organisation’s President.

Thirdly, I always take more away from attending Mental Health Professionals Network (MHPN) events than I could ever contribute. The MHPN brings together a diverse range of practitioners to share learnings, explore new ways of delivering services, and to achieve better outcomes for people living with the experience.  After a busy day in services, these professionals volunteer their time to come together in the evening, and to learn.

I was able to share the news of the federal budget, outlining the various welcome investments in aged care, suicide post-vention and mental health research. I was also able to share some of the frustration at the current overwhelming pace and scale of reform, as we simultaneously wind up successful programs whilst rolling out the NDIS, and transfer Commonwealth programs into the Primary Health Networks. All the while, state government programs are in a state of flux, and in some cases have been withdrawn, and service providers are being asked to fill gaps in current arrangements.

What is a local psychologist to do when one of their ‘client’ is sitting in their suburban office expressing active suicidal ideation, and describing an active plan for self-harm?… The Crisis Intervention Team might be days away, after-hours services might not exist, A&E departments are overloaded and unlikely to have capacity to assist at all, except in the most critical of cases. In one instance described, the suburban psychologist looked after their client in their rooms for six hours, before sending him home with an overnight phone call for follow up. No other services were available.

Sadly this basic story is too common, and follows a script that plays out in similar ways across the county every day, in a variety of different settings, and in spite of recent investments we have a long way to go.

Why are these services so under-resourced? Where are the peer workers? Where are the ‘safe houses’ or home visiting services? How can we be waiting days for a response from a crisis team? Why are there such long waiting lists for life saving intervention?  Why aren’t we preventing these crisis in the first place?

Anyone lucky enough to attend one of these MHPN meetings leaves feeling encouraged by the willingness of professionals to collaborate, cooperate, learn and share. Good people doing great work.

But they also leave thinking that there is much, much more to do…

We need to make it easier for those who are ready, willing and able to provide integrated care to deliver it. We need to make it easier for those who are seeking care to find it.  And we need to do more to prevent the onset and escalation of illnesses that could be prevented if adequate programs were in place. 

To do this we need to close the gap between acknowledgement and action; between rhetoric and real reform. 

The public profile of mental health issues has arguably never been higher. As is the willingness to talk about mental health. We’ve worked hard as a community to reduce stigma, but our systems are not keeping up with the pace and demand. 

And speaking of talk and profile for mental health, the Mental Health Australia tea room has been filled with much good natured chat about the Royal Wedding this week. As have many other offices around Australia, I’m sure. Talk about dresses, dad’s walking daughters down the aisle, and a soon-to-be Duke and Duchess.

Earlier this year we formally invited Prince Harry to deliver the Grace Groom Oration for Mental Health Australia. It was a long shot, but well worth a try. Unfortunately, due to his busy schedule with the Invictus Games, he politely declined the invitation and wished us well for our endeavors. 

But’s that’s not to say he’s not interested, as - alongside his brother William and the Duchess of Cambridge who spearhead the ‘Heads Together’ initiative - the young royals are possibly the most influential mental health advocates of their generation. They are high profile royals speaking publicly about their own mental health struggles and really helping to change the conversation around mental health. 

This week, days out from his wedding, Prince Harry joined his brother Prince William as well as Lady Gaga, Dame Judi Dench, David Harewood and Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill to record and broadcast a #mentalhealthminute to millions via radio for Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK.

In his own words, the Prince told listeners that “If you do have the courage to speak about it, you really can make things better.” 

A strong message, from someone with lived experience. Someone who has the influence to turn talk into true systematic change, and someone with the attention of the world, or at the very least, our tea room.

Warm regards

Frank Quinlan
Chief Executive Officer

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Prince Harry, Heads Together, mental health reform, mental health professionals network, suicide, prevention, early-intervention