Improving the physical health of people living with a serious mental illness in regional Australia

Associate Professor Martin Jones, Sandra Walsh

University of South Australia

The life expectancy of people living with a serious mental illness (SMI) is up to 10-15 years less than the general population. Accessing timely and appropriate physical health care is crucial; however people with a SMI living in regional Australia can experience additional barriers to accessing services. This is in part due to the difficulties associated with recruiting and retaining health professionals in regional Australia.  This paper examines the role non-government organisations can play in addressing the physical health needs of people with a SMI, ensuring that people with a SMI living in a regional area receive have regular health care audits. This paper explores the use of the Health Improvement Profile (HIP) with people with a SMI. It considers the workers’ experiences of using the HIP and the self-described aspects of the HIP workers perceived as being most and least helpful. This study highlights the important role NGO workers in regional Australia could have in helping people with SMI to address their physical health needs. It provides a viable alternative in parts of the world where it may be difficult to recruit health professionals, such as nurses.  Based on the responses of participants, four main themes emerged: taking control; accessing services; guiding my conversation; and working with others. In addition, a number of recommendations are made to modify the HIP to tailor it to regional Australia. The adoption of a tool, such as the HIP, would allow for a shared understanding between professionals and has the potential to improve continuity across services.

Biography

Sandra is currently on secondment in research with the Department of Rural Health, Division of Health Sciences. Her substantive position is Lecturer with UniSA College. Sandra was the Coordinator of the Regional Strand of Foundation Studies, coordinating the Foundation Studies program across the Whyalla Campus and the Mount Gambier Regional Centre. She has been involved in teaching the Foundation Studies program since it began at the Whyalla Campus of the University of South Australia in 2006.

Prior to returning to Whyalla, Sandra worked in Melbourne at General Practice Divisions – Victoria as the state Mental Health Program Manager; representing General Practitioner stakeholders at a state level. Sandra worked in project and program management at the Wagga Wagga and Districts Division of General Practice, across a number of program areas including mental health, drug and alcohol, aged care, and continuing medical education.

Having worked and lived in remote, regional and rural Australia most of her life, Sandra is committed to these areas in pursuing sustainable community engagement and development. She completed degrees at James Cook University of North Queensland in Townsville, and began an academic teaching career there. Sandra is proud to continue to be involved in regional university education.