New ways of caring for people with mental illness mean new roles for workers, writes Cara Jenkin
GREATER understanding and awareness of mental illness, coupled with reduced stigma in the community, is increasing employment opportunities in the healthcare field.
Department of Health and Ageing data shows an estimated seven million Australians, or 45 per cent of the population aged 16 to 85 years, will experience a mental disorder in their lifetime.
About half of those, or three million people, will experience symptoms of a mental disorder each year.
Between 2005 and 2010, the number of patients seeing their GP for a mental healthrelated illness increased by 5.7 per cent each year.
In the same period, there was 5.3 per cent a year growth in the number of people accessing community-based mental healthcare services.
The highest growth of 12 per cent was in people accessing residential mental healthcare services.
Mental disorders include anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Those who suffer increasingly are treated in their homes and at health clinics rather than in mental health institutions or hospitals.
The proportion of employed psychiatrists increased by 5 per cent in the past five years and is expected to increase by a further 5 per cent in the next five years.
Mental health nurses, com- munity support workers, social workers, occupational therapists and psychologists are in greater demand, with projections of 15 per cent more staff required to 2017.
Community and mental health organisation New Horizons Enterprises co-ordinator Peter Orr says increased community awareness of mental health issues is being supported by increased government awareness.
As a result, more funding is being provided for mental healthcare staff, helping to support more jobs.
‘‘ In the last few decades, there’s been especially a push for people to live in a community and not be locked away in institutions,’’ he says.
‘‘ There’s a big push in mental health – the idea that people can actually recover from mental illness and go on to lead a fulfilling life is relatively new.’’
Health Workforce Australia finds social workers are most commonly employed by mental health non-government organisations, with one in four having a social worker on staff.
Meanwhile, 21 per cent employ psychologists, 13 per cent have registered nurses on staff, 8 per cent employ occupational therapists and 3 per cent hire psychiatrists.
Orr says patients need individualised treatment rather than a one-solution-fits-all approach.
This requires workers to hold a range of skills to help empower their clients. Being able to work with people, however, is a must.
‘‘ Anybody (interested in a career in mental health) would need to be a people person,’’ he says.
‘‘ There’s no need to be working (in this industry) if you don’t like different people and challenging behaviours.
‘‘ The core skills are listening and being able to empower people and things like that.
‘‘ One of the skills you need is patience because you need to be able to work with each individual.
‘‘ You can’t take the same approach with two different people, particularly if they are unwell.’’
More research and development is going into working with population groups showing higher rates of mental illness – including refugees and indigenous people – which is creating further employment.
‘‘ Working in the community is quite interesting,’’ Orr says.
‘‘ I still like working with people who are disadvantaged and people with long-term mental health illness who have experienced homelessness. There’s a lot of stigma about that.
‘‘ If you get to work in the community you get to work with many different agencies and I find that quite rewarding. All that comes with working with different people.’’
TIME OUT: Disability support worker Jess Merentitis with Edmen’s Adam Kumcevski.