Lessons from COVID-19 to future-proof the mental health system

30 April 2020

Just as the COVID crisis is effecting large scale change across of our work and home lives so too is it impacting every aspect of the mental health system.

According to the President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, Associate Professor John Allan, there are lessons we must learn from current events in order to avoid further unexpected shocks to the mental health system and ensure our services are fit-for purpose well into the future.

‘The health system that we have been working in for years has been more exposed than ever, not just in meeting the challenges of the COVID crisis but to meet the ever-changing needs of society – this crisis has revealed the extent to which our current health system urgently requires reform.

‘This is a unique opportunity to anticipate, design and build a mental health system which finally meets the needs of all people with mental illness, their carers and family members and the workforce which supports them.

‘We need to think differently, now is the time to reflect openly and honestly on our experiences from COVID-19 – what we have done well and not so well through this crisis, what is working, and what hasn’t been done but is a clear priority as we plot a course forward.

‘With the benefit of insights gained, what might access to a full range of effectively delivered mental health services across the country, which meets the specific needs of all people, actually look like?

‘With some mental health services experiencing less face-to-face interactions, for example, there have been good new models of care to emerge, such as with telehealth services, which allow clinicians to more fully take patient need into account and provide the best mental health care possible.

‘There will always be a need for face-to-face interaction but it can now be complemented with new possibilities.

‘So we want to be able to keep and build on the flexibility to always provide the right care at the right time whether it be face-to-face or through other digital health and telehealth services – wherever a person happens to live.  

Associate Professor Allan pointed to new forms of cooperation and collaboration which have emerged across public, private, government and not-for-profit sectors, and the community.

‘For the first time in a long time, there is a new spirit of belief, shared purpose and co-operation that we can work effectively together to meet significant challenges and achieve immensely positive health outcomes.

‘Governments across the political spectrum, decision makers and the wider community are listening to (and trusting) leading scientists, clinical voices and health experts and drawing on their advice to shape policy, practices and behaviours.

‘People from around the world are also looking to Australia and New Zealand as countries punching well above their weight and leading the way in matters of public health and mental health.

‘There is a strong international sense that both countries have taken this matter seriously, drawn on solid scientific and expert advice to intervene early, and successfully communicated the seriousness of the challenges to their respective populations.

‘Importantly, from within this new platform for health and medical expertise the voice of psychiatry is also finding new resonance.

‘There is a sense, rightly, that psychiatrists have valuable insight in matters of crisis, and are particularly well placed to understand and lead on how moments like these can be a catalyst for positive change.

The RANZCP believe there are clear lessons to take from these experiences on how we can have a friendlier, more empathetic, cooperative and integrated – indeed more connected – mental health system, and that now is the time to act on this.

For more information and for all other expert mental health information, visit Your Health in Mind, the RANZCP’s consumer health information website.

ENQUIRIES: For more information, or to arrange an interview call Sarah Carr on +61 437 315 911, or email media@ranzcp.org.