Strengthening our Mental Health System

Connie Digolis. Picture: Supplied
Connie Digolis. Picture: Supplied

Our hospitals are often the first port of call for Tasmanians experiencing an acute mental health episode, simply because they have reached a crisis point, have nowhere else to turn and no supports in place. While we know public mental health services in our state are stretched beyond capacity, this is unacceptable and Tasmanians deserve better.

Research tells us that the best place for someone to be supported in their ongoing recovery from an episode of mental ill-health is within the community. This is where an integrated and cohesive mental health system that values both clinical and non-clinical care comes into play.

While Karalyn Hingston’s experience (Pages 4-5) describes missed opportunities, deficiencies in access and assessment, and periods of tremendous suffering, we can glean some optimism from her story. A story that shows how the right care model, delivered at the right time and in the right setting, can support Tasmanians like Karalyn to recover and indeed thrive following an episode of mental ill-health.

If we accept the need to integrate clinical and non-clinical care pathways and strengthen a range of targeted and individualised early intervention services and support options within local communities, we can provide Tasmanians with access to a wraparound continuum of care at those critical intersection points in their journey, and not just when they are severely suffering. The reinforcement and accessibility of community-based services will strengthen individuals, communities and our health system overall. 

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Tasmania has the lowest rate of community specialised mental health care service contacts per 1000 population, in the country. To counter this, an integrated approach to mental health services is a non-negotiable. It would include significant investment into preventative and early intervention care models to minimise the need for hospital or acute care in the first place. But, integrated model or not –  we must ensure continued access to acute care, in an emergency department setting if necessary, for those that may have no other option, support or service already in place.

We must ensure services and supports are available and easily accessible to all Tasmanians who need them. Through closing current systemic gaps, establishing new and developing existing community-based mental health care and recovery options, Tasmanians will have access to supports outside of hospitals and within their communities, which is shown to be the most effective environment to promote and achieve long-term recovery.

What Karalyn’s experience tells us is we have a long way to go when it comes to recognising and responding to an individual’s needs. For our communities to see real change, we must:

  • Raise awareness about how early intervention saves lives – with GPs, families and communities
  • Ensure access to supports and services are available to people before they become acutely unwell
  • Promote and celebrate the lives that are saved and learn from people’s recovery journey

There is a clear way forward – and it’s an integrated mental health care model. We can work together to keep moving toward a mentally healthy Tasmania #forallofus

Connie Digolis is CEO of the Mental Health Council of Tasmania. For more information, visit


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