Interdisciplinary professional networks foster community engagement

  • Professor Alan Rosen and Social worker Paula Christian MHPN logo Mental Health Professional's Network
By
Chris Gibbs
Mental Health Professionals’ Network Ltd
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Social worker Paula Christian recognises that community engagement is fundamental to mental health care services in her area, which is why she coordinates two rural Mental Health Professionals’ Networks (MHPN) in Charters Tower and Hughenden in Queensland. Paula works for a community mental health service and delivers therapeutic interventions and support to clients and their families.  
Both MHPN networks have become integral to each community. The networks have the full support of local healthcare providers, many of whom are network members.  Representatives from a full range of disciplines attend meetings. This has developed relationships between practitioners and has improved referral pathways between the service providers.  

“By forging and maintaining relationships, and sharing knowledge and resources, everyone is working towards providing a more cohesive service for the community. The connections these networks create improve our services to the people that need them,” Paula said.

Sometimes, other members of the community such as local police officers, employment agency representatives, teachers and non-government organisations are invited to MHPN meetings. This diversity allows the network to discuss service provision, education, and community development, in a way that benefits all sections of the community. Community involvement and education is also helping to reduce mental health stigma in the towns.

At meetings members may watch and discuss a MHPN webinar recording, host service provision information nights, or invite professionals to present education sessions.

“These networks are not only part of my professional development, but essential to my self-care. If I have issues or concerns, or just need to offload, there is always someone that I can ring and talk to,” Paula said.  

Psychiatrist and University of Sydney researcher, Professor Alan Rosen, is also a strong advocate of the interdisciplinary MHPN networks. Since 2010, he has been a MHPN network member and also helped coordinate MHPN’s Wilcannia network with senior mental health nurse and academic, Liz Martin.  Alan has worked in community mental health for many years. He has been director and clinical director of Royal North Shore Hospital and Community Mental Health Services for 29 years, and has travelled to work in remote towns and Aboriginal communities in western NSW for over 30 years.   

Alan has developed, and researches, community-based alternatives to acute and long-term inpatient mental health care, including rural and remote health services. His research has found that mobile and seven day and night community-based services and facilities provided from within urban, regional and rural communities can give improved clinical and functional outcomes for service users and their families. To deliver an integrated community approach, Alan recommends that public health care services in rural towns develop strong working relationships with other service providers and that all services should contribute to the co-design of their regional mental health plan, together with local service users and their families.

“Our network meetings are about trying to get the public and private organisations to work together in town. Wilcannia doesn’t have a resident doctor, so MHPN meetings are one of the ways that we can bring together all the agencies and services in town, and encourage them to work with each other around particular types of mental health problems. ” Alan said.

Research has shown that collaborations between mental health professionals improves clinical pathways and outcomes for patients. The MHPN is a government-funded initiative that supports local interdisciplinary mental health practitioner networks and online professional development webinars. Rural MHPN networks receive additional funding and the full support of a MHPN project officer.

Information about joining or starting a MHPN network can be found at www.mhpn.org.au or by calling 1800 209 031.

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