Unfolding Reform

The NDIS is the most significant change in welfare since Medicare, a very positive change for people living with disability so they can have greater choice and control over the services and support they need.

As with any large scale funding reform, there have been challenges with accessibility and it will naturally take time to reach and process people in need, especially those who are not already connected to government services. But as the scheme continues to roll out across the country, gaps are being identified.

The NDIS is principally designed for people with a physical or intellectual disability, where assessments are relatively straightforward. But assessing the eligibility of people with a mental illness is proving to be a “major problem.” – Sydney Morning Herald July 2017

What we are seeing now are many people needing support for mental health issues who are not qualifying for the NDIS, even those who are already accessing commonwealth funded support services such as PHaMs (Personal Helpers and Mentors)

Between 64 and 92 thousand people will qualify for NDIS Psychosocial Disability packages (ABS.) This leaves 700 thousand people across the country living with psychosocial disability who will need mental health supports that aren’t funded by the NDIS.

The NSW government is pushing mental health reforms by investing an additional $20 million into mental health, totalling $95 million in the 2017/18 financial year – NSW mental health reform fact sheet 17/18

But whilst the government has identified the need; practical solutions have not yet transferred to frontline supports for people with mental illness.

The Wait

My concern as a mental health worker is the cost to the individual in having to wait for services. These are real people living with disability who need support right now, not in 6 months.

You may think there are plenty of services and programs in the community for people to take advantage of, this in not the case in reality. In fact, it’s going backward.

From my own experience, over the last couple of years we’ve seen a decrease in funding for case management and non clinical social services. Funding for many commonwealth programs such as PHaMs, Securing and Supporting Tenancies, Community Living Supports, COPS and Partners in Recovery have either ceased or decreased as these services transition into the scheme.

This is forcing Not for Profits (NFP’s) to adjust how they operate, who they service and how quickly they can provide supports. Some are closing their books, period. This is becoming a systemic issue as NFP’s can’t operate in the community without income. They can’t take on more community support activities knowing they will not be paid. They’re in a holding pattern as they prepare for the NDIS and the open market of individualised services.

Acknowledging the Need

Whilst we applaud the precepts of the NDIS and embrace change and innovation, it is worrying to see people waiting for over 6 months to access non clinical mental health services. This gap in service delivery is inhibiting socioeconomic inclusion and recovery for people living with mental ill health. By the time individuals are able to access support they most likely have had interactions with hospital mental health services, corrective services or experienced a hospital admission.

Easy access to mental health support is important. Our community and service networks are hoping that the need for mentorship and non clinical mental health recovery services will be acknowledged. Front line service delivery through case management and the development of therapeutic relationships is a key positive change factor for people living with mental illness.

We can’t afford to lose this function with the unfolding industry reform.

Joel is the Manager of Mental Health and Disability Services at CHESS Employment. He has a personal interest in addressing homelessness, domestic violence and supporting social justice activities within the local community. He loves guiding his staff in supporting people in their recovery journey towards independence and self agency.