The NSW Mental Health Commissioner, John Feneley, welcomed the NSW Government’s commitment to a new direction for mental health services in NSW and $115 million in new funding to a series of important mental health initiatives, saying the investment demonstrated the Government had listened to people who live with mental illness and their families and carers.

“The changes announced today begin to reorient our mental health system from one centred on hospitals to one where people can in nearly all circumstances receive appropriate support in the community,” Mr Feneley said. “We know people recover better when they can remain at home, with their family and friends, and usual occupation or activities. I applaud the Government for courageously embracing this new approach, which puts people and their choices at the centre. It is a very good day for mental health in this state.”

The Government’s announcements are in response to Living Well: A Strategic Plan for Mental Health in NSW 2014 – 2024, which was released on December 15, 2014. The Plan, which takes a whole-of-Government, whole-of-life and whole-of-community perspective, was developed by the Commission through a year-long consultation process, which included online forums as well as community visits and submissions. More than 2000 people contributed, of whom 800 were people who live with mental health problems, making it the most inclusive mental health consultation ever undertaken in NSW.

Mr. Feneley said the commitment to progressively move 380 long-stay patients out of the remaining standalone psychiatric facilities acknowledged that people who needed the very highest levels of support should have the opportunity to live in the community.

“There is no place for institutional care in a modern mental health system,” Mr Feneley said. “The old psychiatric hospitals have caused great trauma to many people over many years, and they perpetuate damaging stigma about mental illness. I am delighted the Government has made such a substantial step towards ending their use.”

The addition of more Housing and Accommodation Support Initiative packages, which assist people experiencing mental illness to participate in community life and maintain successful tenancies, was further testament to the new direction, Mr Feneley said, along with the Government’s commitment to increasing hours of mental health support available to people who live with severe and enduring illness.

“As I have travelled the state meeting individuals and communities, I have heard again and again that the services available, while well-intentioned, are simply not intensive enough to effectively support people,” said Mr Feneley. “The Government’s increased investment acknowledges that mental health support must be available to respond promptly when someone is unwell or at risk of becoming unwell, in order to prevent their situation escalating into a crisis.”

“The challenge over the longer term will be to ensure this momentum is maintained, and that future mental health investment also is directed not principally to hospitals but mainly towards community-based services, whether those provided by Government or the community-managed sector.”

Mr Feneley said he particularly welcomed a new emphasis on services and programs that span multiple domains of Government responsibility, including links between the health and justice systems for young people leaving custody.

“Our prisons are full of people with mental illness, and young people and Aboriginal people who experience mental illness are at particularly high risk of coming into contact with the justice system,” said Mr Feneley. “New ways to support young people’s mental health as they transition between the justice system and the community will be essential if we wish to break the tragic cycle of repeated incarceration for those who are vulnerable because of their mental illness, and the Government’s commitment today has acknowledged this.”

Mr Feneley said this and other cross-agency initiatives, such as the expansion of the School Link Coordinator program to forge relationships between schools and local community mental health services, showed the Government recognised the complexity of people’s lives.

“Over time I would like to see responsibility for mental health support spread even more widely across Government portfolios and agencies,” he said. “When we include social services, education, employment services and front-line responders such as police and paramedics in a comprehensive mental health response, we have the best opportunity of intervening early with comprehensive support that wraps around people at the most challenging times of their lives, and prevents them falling through the cracks.”

The Commission would independently assess the progress of mental health reform and report regularly back to Government and the community, in line with its legislated responsibility to monitor, review and improve the mental health and wellbeing of the people of NSW, Mr Feneley said.

Mental health was a shared responsibility, Mr Feneley said, and should not be seen as separate from other aspects of people’s lives. He encouraged people to visit The Living Well Project website, established by the Commission to facilitate a community discussion about mental health experiences and expectations across NSW, and to share their perspectives via social media.

“Living Well is for everyone,” Mr Feneley said. “I hope these excellent initiatives from the NSW Government drive an energetic conversation about what Living Well means now and what it should mean in the decade ahead.”

If you’re struggling with mental health issues, you can search for a counsellor on the Australia Counselling national directory here.

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