Case study: Connecting mental health and alcohol and other drug systems in South Brisbane

We worked with the Brisbane South PHN, Metro South Health, Addiction and Mental Health Services, and people with lived and/or living experience to design recommendations to better connect mental health and alcohol and other drug systems in the region.

The background

The Connecting Mental Health and AOD Project responds to a specific aspect of fragmentation within the existing mental health system: The division between AOD (alcohol and other drugs) and mental health service provisions.

It’s estimated that one in three of people experiencing AOD challenges have at least one comorbid mental health challenge – and that rate is even higher for people within AOD treatment programs. Despite the significant need behind these numbers, many will experience a system that is fragmented.

This project aims to better understand the drivers of the system fragmentation that exists for those with co-occurring mental health and AOD needs, and identify effective strategies to reduce these to make sure people receive holistic support.

Our approach

Despite our initial intentions of delving straight into a co-design process, we pivoted to an initial co-planning stage to support a group of diverse people to make decisions from the outset about vision, values, direction, ambition, resource and approach.

As a result, we were able to take a co-planned system vision and supporting principles into the co-design process, as well as enable the people with lived and/or living experience to design safe enough support practices.

These foundations supported the coming together of professionals and those with lived/living experiences to lead recruitment, outline the ambition and constraints of the project scope with project leaders and ultimately prepare to learn and lead together throughout the process.

Our insights

People with AOD-related challenges are often stigmatised by the public as well as by health and human services professionals. Negative attitudes toward people with AOD-related challenges can be a major barrier to receiving optimal care. 

The group’s work showcased the biggest factors getting in the way of a connected system and provided solutions to overcome them:

1. Stigma

Too often, the behaviours and mindsets held about people with co-occurring AOD and/or mental health impact their ability to access and receive quality care.

Foregrounding a stigma free and Human Rights commitment across and within the system reinforces to the community that everyone has the right to receive quality, stigma free, connected care.

2. Diverse lived and/or living experience workforce

There is a cursory understanding about the lived and/or living experience of peer workers, and their role and ability to provide quality, connected care within and across mental health and AOD services.

Strengthening and expanding the lived and/or living leadership workforce will support stigma-free, safe and connected care, as can expanding the understanding that peer workers can shape care experiences at all levels (particularly in governance and decision-making).

3. Networked transitions

The fragmentation between mental health and AOD care is extensive, with different legislation, philosophies, structures, ways of working, and staff education levels. This means it has historically been difficult to deliver effective connected care.

What’s next

We must build and strengthen partnerships to prioritise transitions between AOD and mental health services both in and out of the community. We set three strategic priorities and a ‘now, next, future’ action process.

Leaders with lived/living experience within the process presented to two groups of executive leaders about the outcomes, and verbalised their individual and collective calls to action. A number of the lived experience leaders have progressed into advisory roles within the Brisbane South PHN to uphold the integrity of this work.

Brisbane South PHN and Metro South Health, Addiction and Mental Health Services leaders are now in the process of progressing the priorities into the regional plan.

Interested in co-creating a service or model that supports people through investing in lived experience and peer-to-peer practices? Talk to us about how we can bring co-design to your next project.

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