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Focus on mental health risks

UniSA Chair in Mental Health Nursing, Professor Nicholas Procter.In a first for SA, UniSA’s Professor Nicholas Procter has brought together a range of mental health stakeholders to address one of the nation’s critical issues.

Sometimes homeless, often addicted to drugs or alcohol or simply suffering a mental health episode, people with a mental illness come to crisis point in the community every day. And responses and support for to the mentally ill when they are in crisis and when they seek assistance can be less than perfect.

In a significant move to address these issues across the community, this month UniSA’s Peace Defence and Security Research and Innovation Cluster, and Mental Health Research Group led an innovative Risk roundtable bringing together a broad section of professionals and social services to develop a research agenda to find better strategies for dealing with mental illness and mental health related crises in the community.

UniSA Chair in Mental Health Nursing, Professor Nicholas Procter, says the November 11 Roundtable was the first of its kind in SA and unique in its multidisciplinary approach.

“When you look at any given critical incident surrounding mental illness in the community it doesn’t take too long to understand the complexity of managing these issues,” Prof Procter says.

“A range of services come into play from social services and police, to the public advocate, psychiatrists, health workers and nurses and each has a different perspective on the situation. This roundtable has set some parameters for new research by working together and sharing the perspectives and the knowledge we have as a community about dealing with incidents involving people with a mental illness.”

Prof Procter says mental health is one of the nation’s critical community issues.

Every four hours somebody completes suicide in Australia. Studies have consistently demonstrated that people with mental illnesses are over-represented in prisons and that rates of mental illness in the criminal justice system are substantially higher than those found in the general population.

He says other key factors put people with a mental illness at risk.

“People who are dependent on alcohol and other drugs are up to 50 per cent more likely to have a co-morbid psychiatric condition and people with a diagnosed serious mental illness are four times more likely to abuse alcohol and six times more likely to have some other substance abuse problem,” Prof Procter says.

“This starts to paint a picture of the layered problems people with a mental illness struggle with and the difficulty in isolating one aspect of their situation for treatment and support.

“In bringing together this group we have been able to scope how we can build better evidence-based responses that are safe for individuals with mental health problems and the wider community.”

The Risk Roundtable involved 21 key leaders in from across the community including Deputy Chief Magistrate, Justice Andrew Cannon, representatives from SA Ambulance Service, the SA Police, UniSA’s Schools of Law, Pharmacy and Medical Sciences, Health Sciences and Nursing, the Departments of Housing, Family and Communities, Correctional Services, and Health, SA’s Chief Psychiatrist and the Director of Mental Health Operations.

“The calibre of people involved in the Roundtable was both distinguished and broad and their input has helped enormously in providing some clear directions about where we should focus our research to help to develop caring and effective approaches to people who are often overlooked until they are in crisis,” Prof Procter says.