Research critical to mental health reform

A Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research academic says that research will be a critical enabler of mental health reforms outlined in the newly released Productivity Commission Mental Health Inquiry Report.

Professor Harvey Whiteford, who served as Associate Commissioner during the Inquiry, said that evidence gathered via data collection; program monitoring, reporting and evaluations; and research will help address evidence gaps and barriers in Australia’s health system that lead to poor outcomes for people with mental illness.

“The Inquiry Report emphasises the value of evidence to drive continuous improvement and promote accountability within the mental health system,” Professor Whiteford said.

“Research conducted at the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research brings the essential science perspective to government decision makers by helping them to understand how many people experience mental disorders, and what services can do to prevent and treat mental disorders more effectively.

“This work is incredibly important given that the one in five Australians who currently experience mental illness in any given year don’t necessarily receive the treatment or support they need to prevent or minimise mental distress, disruptions to education and employment, relationship breakdown, or loss of life satisfaction and opportunities.

“Research will be essential to understand the gaps and barriers that lead to the poor outcomes we currently see within the system and this new knowledge will be critical to drive mental health system reform, in particular, to inform new programs and policies and improve outcomes.”

In addition to its recommendations around research and data collection, the Inquiry Report makes 20 other recommendations to address gaps and barriers in the mental health system, with a focus on prevention and early help, improving people’s experiences with mental health care and services beyond the health system, equipping workplaces to be mentally healthy, and instilling incentives and accountability for strategies that improve mental health outcomes.

Priority reforms include screening and assistance for new parents, equipping schools to support the social and emotional wellbeing of students, providing timely and effective aftercare for those who attempt suicide, establishing a national digital mental health platform, and expanding the capacity of online treatment services.

Professor Whiteford said that such significant reforms are unlikely to be easily implemented and a whole-of-government commitment to a new national mental health strategy will be critical for success.

“The recommendations outlined in the report are comprehensive and will require negotiation between multiple government agencies, upskilling of our workforce, and changes to deep-seated workplace and community attitudes about mental health,” he said.

“A new national mental health agreement by Federal, state and territory governments is needed to clarify responsibilities and how health and non-health sectors should work together to achieve the desired reforms,

”This will require significant effort but, with billions of dollars likely to flow to the community from improvements to our mental health system, policy makers can be confident in the benefits of taking action.”

The Productivity Commission Mental Health Inquiry final report was released publicly on 16 November 2020.

Based at The Park Centre for Mental Health at Wacol, Brisbane, the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research is a unique partnership between West Moreton Hospital and Health Service, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, and The University of Queensland’s School of Public Health and Queensland Brain Institute.

Kate Gadenne, Research Development Manager, QCMHR, 0438 727 895,

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