MENTAL illness sufferers, carers and professionals had the chance to shape future mental health services at a Living Well Forum in Tamworth yesterday, but the city is already kicking goals, according to NSW mental health commissioner John Feneley.
Information from the forum, one of a series across the state, will feed into the draft strategic plan for the reform of mental health service provision in NSW.
Health, housing, education, the criminal justice system and family support were addressed, along with the lack of health services in rural and remote areas.
Issues affecting people in the country include poverty, unemployment, substance misuse, child abuse, domestic violence, social isolation and increasing levels of stress.
Mr Feneley said prevention, intervention and wrap-around care needed to be a focus, with too much dependency placed on the hospital system.
“Communities need to have access to alternatives to hospitalisation, so if people are beginning to feel unwell they can go to that place for a number of days and get the close care they need,” he said.
“That could prevent them from having a serious lapse in health.”
Mental illness can reduce a person’s life expectancy by 20 to 25 years.
“They’re not dying of mental illness, they’re dying of the physical side effects of living with mental illness – higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, smoking, weight gain, lack of exercise and poor diet,” Mr Feneley said.
Statistics show 75 per cent of lifestyle mental illnesses are identified before the age of 25.
“We need greater capacity in our community, in particularly in our schools, to recognise that children are having difficulties,” Mr Feneley said.
“They might be struggling with an emotional issue that needs care and attention.
“We need to pick up issues early and have systems in place to reduce the number of kids needing medication.”
According to Mr Feneley, Tamworth is miles ahead of many areas in the New England and North West, following the introduction of headspace, a service for youth aged from 12 to 25, earlier this year.
“It’s a non-threatening place in which young people can get access to the services they need,” Mr Feneley said.
He said the reform needed to make it attractive for people to work in remote communities and provide specialist psychiatric treatments.
“GPs are a primary source of care. They deal with depression and anxiety but often feel uncomfortable dealing with a more severe form of mental illness,” he said.