The NDIS presents a “transformational storm” for the community-managed mental health sector and centering those with lived experience to shape a system responsive to their needs is the only way it will succeed.
This was one of the key messages to emerge from the first-ever summit of community-managed mental health groups on the NDIS in Sydney last month, a sellout event exploring the lessons and challenges so far presented by the scheme’s rollout.
In this piece for Croakey, CMHA chief Amanda Bresnan reports on the conference, themed “Towards a Good Life”, and presents a roadmap forward for the NDIS rollout in community-managed mental health.
Amanda Bresnan writes:
The Community Mental Health Australia (CMHA) National NDIS Mental Health Conference on November 16 and 17 in Sydney was the first community-led and run conference on mental health and the NDIS in Australia. The conference sold out, demonstrating the significant interest in and need of the sector for this type of event. It also marked an important step in the community-managed mental health sector’s leadership in exploring and developing the potential of the NDIS.
Consumers, carers, and public sector employees from across health and community services sectors attended the conference, as well as community sector employees, who comprised the bulk of participants. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with many commenting that it had been the first real opportunity for the sector to get together, with delegates from across Australia, to discuss and exchange lessons from the NDIS rollout, which will significantly shape our future.
The theme of the conference was ‘towards a good life’, in recognition of the significant opportunity the NDIS presents. The importance of governments and all agencies involved with the NDIS working in partnership with consumers, carers and the community-managed mental health sector emerged as a key theme. Collaboration was essential to addressing emerging concerns, taking lessons from implementation sites and confronting challenges presented by the rollout, stakeholders said. Putting participants and consumers at the centre of the NDIS will be pivotal to its success.
Peer workers emphasised that this is very much a human rights issue, with one commenting that the ‘the genie is out of the bottle’ and that consumers expect their rights to be respected and their voices heard. We must ensure we use this opportunity to create a system that delivers what consumers and carers need.
Other key issues and messages to emerge from the conference:
- The central role that peer workers can play in the NDIS across all population groups, and the impact that the NDIS pricing model is having on the workforce through casualisation, low pay and instability.
- Provider struggles with the NDIS price structure and the impact this may have on the safety and quality of services.
- The problematic relationship between the recovery model of mental health and the deficit model of the NDIS. There are issues with the language used by the sector and how this works with and is understood within the NDIS context.
- That the sector must educate itself on service provision to diverse populations including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse groups and the LGBTQI community, and the ways social disadvantage affects these communities
- Importance of providers being in a community early to establish a presence and gain trust – one of the key lessons from implementing Local Area Coordination in the UK
The eye of the storm
A number of speakers reminded everyone that NDIS is only one part of the wider picture. The NDIS will provide services to a limited number of people with psychosocial disability, and the significant issue is people living with a mental health condition who won’t be eligible for the NDIS. Governments at every level must work together to ensure there are services for all people with psychosocial disability, regardless of their NDIS eligibility, as noted by the Productivity Commission’s NDIS costs inquiry.
The aim of the conference was to build the sector’s capacity to respond and grow across the NDIS transition, through hearing about and participating in discussions on best practice, lessons learned at trial sites, and looking at the broad scope of groups and areas that are a part of this significant change to service delivery across the country. In this, it was certainly a success.
As Gerry Naughtin, Mind Australia CEO and the recently-announced Mental Health Adviser to the NDIA described it, we are in the eye of a transformational storm. The NDIS is changing lives, but we must reflect on where we have come from, and use this to guide us where we need to go.
It is imperative that we view issues, problems and solutions through eyes of people with lived experience. Co-design and co-production is essential.
CMHA looks forward to progressing the outcomes from the CMHA National NDIS Mental Health Conference, and to continuing to work with the community managed mental health sector, consumers, carers and governments at all levels to ensure the NDIS fulfills its potential.
Amanda Bresnan is the executive director of Community Mental Health Australia