CEO Update - Silos work for grain and art, but not for mental health

Lachlan Searle

When the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released its 2016 National Survey this week, Pat McGorry was quick to highlight the link between mental ill health and self-medication when he said;

“Mental ill health drives self-medication with drugs and alcohol and yet virtually no services are equipped to respond to this toxic blend.”

Pat’s comments, which I completely agree with, point to the longstanding silos that so often see alcohol and drug problems and mental health problems dealt with separately.

Silos work for grain but when we look them collectively, just like artist Cam Scale, photographer Robert Lang and the community of Kimba, South Australia - look what can be achieved.

We have recently seen Australian Governments agree on a National Plan for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. Another plan details the National Drug Strategy. Another the National Disability Strategy. Housing? Employment? Education? All separate plans that at best refer to each other’s existence, but at worst perpetuate the silos that see funding allocated out of separate buckets, to separate programs, with very little opportunity for organisations on the ground to join the dots.

In addition to creating silos, we have increasingly seen these kinds of national plans stepping away from any kind of commitment to setting targets that can be monitored, responsibility for action is seldom clearly articulated, nor do they allocate funding to particular actions.

People who are trying to build or rebuild their lives do not need separate, disconnected strategies. People do not need disconnected and disjointed services and supports.

Services, which are trying to provide support to people to live, thrive, and participate in complex communities do not need separate funding streams, divergent key performance indicators and multiple reporting lines.

If we are to overcome the challenges associated with meth/amphetamine use and mental illness we have to break down the barriers that currently see many of these programs funded separately. We have to provide service organisations the resources and the freedom they need to sit down with individuals to design and implement interventions and supports that meet the needs of the whole person. When specialists are needed, we need to ensure that those specialists are able to communicate effectively and efficiently, to coordinate the various supports on offer.

Primary Health Networks offer one important opportunity to break down some of these barriers, and to see programs and services that are genuinely integrated and coordinated. But this is only going to happen if we can break down the boundaries that see separate streams of funding for drug and alcohol issues, mental health issues, and various psychosocial supports.

The bigger picture, like the amazing piece of art above is achievable… when we look at the silos as one.

Warm regards

Frank Quinlan, CEO Mental Health Australia

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