Co-design space offers new era of mental health care

Morgan Liotta

23/03/2021 4:03:58 PM

Guided by lived experiences, a new mental health initiative will help to rethink the way models of care are delivered.

Paper cut out of head with heart jigsaw
The national research translation centre is designed to transform the mental health care system and implementation of care.

Lifting the burden of mental health is one of Australia’s biggest priorities and is featured prominently in the Federal Government’s Long-term National Health Plan.
In 2018­–19, $10.6 billion was invested in mental health care, and investment in mental health services and suicide prevention in 2020–21 is already at a ‘record high’ of $5.9 billion.
Recent data shows that close to half (46%) of Australians aged 16­–85 have experienced a mental disorder during their lifetime.
But according to a new national National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)-funded initiative, collaboration with people who have lived experiences of mental health significantly helps to drive change, and should support the move from reform to implementation of change in mental health care.
‘People with lived experience bring expertise to the processes that enrich the ultimate outcomes, but more importantly it ensures that the interventions or models of care that are being developed fit with people’s needs and experiences,’ University of Melbourne primary care mental health researcher, Associate Professor Victoria Palmer told newsGP.
Associate Professor Palmer leads the team that was recently awarded an NHMRC Special Initiative in Mental Health to establish a national research translation centre – Academy of LIVed-Experience (ALIVE) – to implement mental health care at scale in the primary care and community setting.
Operating over five years as a virtual network across 14 university partners from all states and territories, the co-designed centre will ensure representation from lived-experience leaders at all levels.
ALIVE takes its name from the objective to address life expectancy gaps for people with mental illness, and to support the foundation of an Academy of Lived Experience for the development of research career pathways and lived-experience research.
‘The centre will have a focus on prevention across the life course, and priority populations who experience an unacceptable life expectancy gap of up to 25 years … due to factors that can be changed,’ Associate Professor Palmer said.  
‘In adopting our method of experience-based co-design, we start from a place of developing understanding of what needs to change based on experiences of living with an illness and/or accessing or receiving a service, or being a carer and providing supports.
‘Without this understanding, what is designed for delivery in healthcare may not reflect the needs of people or their unique perspectives – meaning people may not use the service or intervention.’
Associate Professor Palmer said that improving outcomes and outlooks for people living with mental illness has been a key driver for the project.
‘We have had a focus on why we need change in our mental health care system and what needs to change, but this is the first large investment of this scale in a centre that can support how to implement changes at scale, and through primary care and the community settings,’ she said.
‘The centre will foster collaboration for implementation and translation, and embedded co-design research models.’
The centre is also expected to provide a mental health research network aimed at growing researcher capabilities, including providing career pathways for people with lived experience of mental health, and lived-experience-led research through the planned ALIVE model.
‘Longer term, we aim to implement models of care that have been co-designed by and with people with lived experience of mental illnesses and carers,’ Associate Professor Palmer said.
‘This includes going out to where people live, work and play to deliver innovations in mental health care delivery. The centre will embed a Co-Design Living Lab model of working with people with lived experience within universities across Australia to ensure that end-to-end design and translation is conducted for mental health research.’
In addition to national and international collaborations through its International Scientific Advisory Committee, the centre will bring together a diverse range of professionals, including government bodies, charities, and community-based organisations.
They will join more than 2200 members with lived experience of mental illness and carers of people with mental health needs who are part of the existing University of Melbourne Co-Design Living Lab, also led by Associate Professor Palmer.
‘The centre’s vision and aspirations were co-created with people with lived experiences of mental health conditions from the existing Co-Design Living Lab model,’ she said.
‘The research programs focus on prevention across the life course and priority populations for whole-of-system change and integration.’
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