Think­ing ahead

New ways of car­ing for peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness mean new roles for work­ers, writes Cara Jenkin

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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.’’

Pic­ture: Chris Man­gan

TIME OUT: Dis­abil­ity sup­port worker Jess Mer­en­ti­tis with Ed­men’s Adam Kum­cevski.

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