ISSR researchers supporting the design of the new National Mental Health Workforce Strategy

27 Aug 2020

The Australian Government is committed to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians, and in ensuring policies, programs and initiatives are evidence-based and fit for purpose. Effectively meeting the current and future mental health needs of the population depends on an appropriately structured and skilled mental health workforce that is able to monitor and respond to emerging needs. The mental health workforce is diverse and made up of health and social care professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, general practitioners, occupational therapists, social workers and peer workers, as well as those who may not have a specific mental health role. They deliver mental health care, treatment and support across a range of diverse, inter-related services.

Overview of mental health workforce challenges

Motif design by Leigh Harris, Ingeous Studios

The Australian Government is developing a new National Mental Health Workforce Strategy (the Strategy) which aims to identify key workforce challenges and actions to support the effective provision of mental health services across Australia. The Australian Government Department of Health (the Department) and the National Mental Health Commission are currently developing the Strategy, with this development being overseen by an independent National Mental Health Workforce Strategy Taskforce.

A team of ISSR researchers, led by Associate Professor Fran Boyle, with co-leads Dr Anne Cleary and Dr Natalie Thomas, worked in close consultation with the Department and the Taskforce, to help shape the Strategy by undertaking a systematic literature review of a broad range of sources, including existing national and jurisdictional workforce strategies, the most recent findings of mental health reviews and inquiries, and academic and grey literature. This rapid and targeted review was conducted across a six week period and developed through a collaborative, co-design approach with close and ongoing consultation occurring between the ISSR team, the Department project team and the Taskforce.

The team applied a rigorous protocol to review existing mental health workforce policies and strategies and provide an evidence-informed analysis of best practice options for mental health workforce strategies. This literature review overviewed the current diverse and complex policy landscape relating to the Australian mental health workforce. It addressed six key research questions centred around identifying the key workforce challenges: commonalities across policies and strategies; how to effectively support the mental health workforce; issues impacting the quality, supply, distribution and structure of the mental health workforce; and provide recommendations to attract, train and retain the workforce. The literature review paid particular attention to five identified priority areas: Rural and Remote, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities, Workforce Training and Education, Peer and Lived Experience and Inter-jurisdictional and Inter-governmental.

This project was supported by Jane Moore, a UQ Librarian, who was instrumental in assisting the team to develop a co-designed search strategy. Jane’s specialist knowledge supported the design of effective and expedited search strategies and effective quality control. This resulted in undertaking comprehensive searching and screening of almost 1,000 relevant information sources, resulting in approximately 300 documents for review. Framework analysis, a qualitative data analysis method ideally suited to addressing policy-related questions, was used to synthesise the data, to identify themes in the literature, relevant to the project questions and priority areas. Following the synthesis of evidence, the team produced a draft Literature Review Report to the Department and the Taskforce.

This literature review will serve as a foundational resource for the Taskforce who will provide a report and recommendations to the Government by December 2020, prior to endorsement of the final Strategy by the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council in June 2021.

Project Team: Associate Professor Fran Boyle, Dr Anne Cleary, Dr Natalie Thomas, Zeb Inch, Shannon Dias, Jane Moore, Professor Simon Smith, Dr Caroline Salom, Dr Yaqoot Fatima.