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“We have to produce services in a different way” hears Lismore inquiry hearing

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Amanda Cohn
NSW Greens MP
13 February 2024

The NSW mental health inquiry visited Lismore today and heard about the challenges facing the regional community in accessing quality mental health services.

Support for young people is particularly important because of the extreme trauma they have experienced in the region in recent years.

“The need is massive - that’s something I really want to emphasise. It’s massive in this region specifically… The 2017 floods, the bushfires, COVID lockdowns and then our most recent floods means that their (young people’s) key stage of development has been severely affected by traumatic events and there’s just such a great need for that level of service that is going to find and support those young people that are going to end up in bad places,” said Mr Hamilton.

“Often the young people who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged and most likely to end up in tragic and dire circumstances are the least likely to engage in those conventional approaches. The feedback we get from young people (who engage with Human Nature’s service) is that they feel seen, they feel heard, they feel met,” said Therapeutic Lead and Founder at Human Nature, Andy Hamilton.

Witnesses discussed the region’s mental health workforce being stretched thin.

“There is a lot of burnout (amongst workers). Given it’s a regional area, we have such a limited workforce… we’re all drawing from the same workforce trying to deliver services. Workers are working in three different part time roles in three different organisations - that’s quite common. It’s a huge problem,” said General Manager at Northern Rivers Women and Children's Services, Kelly Bannister.

“We can’t continue trying to get services that aren’t there or services that don’t fit the need of anybody. Not only are they not fitting the need of people who need the services, but they’re not fitting the needs of the staff (providing those services) either. The staff are getting exhausted and mental health issues because of the models they’re working in,” said former Deputy Commissioner of Mental Health Commission of NSW & General Manager at Inclusion, Flourish Australia, Fay Jackson.

“We’re really fortunate to have extraordinary staff in our mental health team who are - at six days a week - completely overwhelmed. They’re working well beyond their scope… In part that’s because of the extreme need for them to cater for everything in-house. There’s literally nowhere for us to refer clients to at the moment… It’s much more productive for us to perform in-house (case management) than to send them on to a service that may or may not contact them in a relevant period of time. We’ve had people literally lose it just because they’re sitting on a call waiting for a support service. The impact of that on people who are already at breaking point with their mental health is extreme,” said Executive Director at Wardell CORE, Joel Orchard.

Witnesses spoke about the lack of coordination between government, private and not-for-profit sectors, as well as limited or no government funding for their operations.

“Our services are not integrated. Between the not-for-profit sector, the private sector and the government sector, there’s hardly any communication in the field. There must be linkages made there on behalf of families,” said Executive Officer at North Coast Allied Health Association, Rob Curry.

“The biggest challenge for us is sustainability. We are currently operating without any government funding. We are entirely philanthropically funded and yet we support some of the region’s most vulnerable young people. We implore the committee to consider these invisible young people. They’re those young people that are least likely to walk through the door of funded services such as Headspace, and yet they’re most likely to be requiring more costly downstream interventions and facing tragic consequences,” said Head of Operations at Human Nature, Jenny Parke.

Mr Orchard spoke about the value of Wardell CORE’s community-led service and how the model can be replicated in different settings.

“The greatest impact that we’re having on people’s health and wellbeing is that we can offer all of those things in one place which is comfortable… It feels like a home, it’s very easy for people to access. That in itself is widely replicable. It’s also scalable. I think what we’re offering would be just as relevant at a larger scale as it would a smaller scale. The fact that it’s owned and led by the community itself… that gives us the ability to discuss with the people who benefit from the service the most about what it is exactly that they need and we’re able to reflect that in the way that we deliver services,” said Mr Orchard.

Ms Jackson shared her personal experience of the benefit of peer workers:

“I will never go back into hospital… I can’t do it. I won’t survive it. We can’t cause this (trauma) for other people. It must stop. I’m just the example of what’s happening to thousands of people every day… I need to be able to just find that service in the middle of town where I can walk in, see friendly welcoming faces who will put an arm around me, sit beside me, and ask me what’s going on and say ‘no wonder you’re feeling like that darling. We can help you.’ This is what peer support services do.”

“Please, open your hearts, open your minds, and know because the services are broken, we have to produce services in a different way,” said Ms Jackson.

Dr Amanda Cohn, the Inquiry’s Chair and NSW Greens spokesperson for Health including Mental Health, spoke about the importance of taking the Inquiry to a regional area with such a demand for mental health services.

“Today in Lismore we heard about the trauma experienced by Northern Rivera communities - not just because of the flood but because of inaccessible and difficult to navigate mental health services”

“Regional communities deserve mental health care early and in their own community, and not only in crisis situations” said Dr Cohn.

The final hearing for the mental health inquiry is on Thursday 15 February 2024 in Sydney.

Media contact: Josh Appleton - [email protected]


profile image
Amanda Cohn
NSW Greens MP
13 February 2024


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