RACGP gets a seat at the table on Mental Health Australia Board

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

14/12/2020 3:13:40 PM

Dr Cathy Andronis, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Psychological Medicine network, will represent general practice.

Dr Cathy Andronis.
Newly-appointed Mental Health Australia Board member, Dr Cathy Andronis.

After almost three years as an RACGP representative at Mental Health Australia, Dr Cathy Andronis has been elected to the Board.  
Her appointment at the peak mental health organisation comes just weeks after the Productivity Commission released its report into mental health, and the Melbourne GP says the timing could not have been better.
‘There have also been plenty of other initiatives and reports that are expressing alarm at the high rate of mental health problems and suicide rates, and that there is a clear need to change government policy direction in regard to mental health management,’ Dr Andronis told newsGP.
‘[By] being on the Mental Health Australia Board at this time, when there’s so much change, [we will] be able to advocate from the GP perspective for what we believe will be the best way forward.
‘We understand patient care and we understand the complexity of mental health problems, which require a full biopsychosocial approach, and [one that] includes not only the patient, but the patient’s carers [and] the patient’s family.
‘In primary care we tend to see all of those people.’
With GPs often the first port of call for people seeking help with a mental illness, Dr Andronis says it makes sense to give the RACGP a seat at the table.
As well as being an advocate for patient-centred reform, she sees it as an opportunity to champion and support general practice.
‘GPs are also incredibly burdened by high rates of mental health management issues in their practice and often feel unsupported,’ Dr Andronis said.
‘We often feel that we don’t have the time or that we’re not valued, or understood by governments and other agencies.
‘So [it is] an opportunity to put forward the views of GPs, and to help people understand that we do understand mental illness, that we spend a lot of time helping patients with mental health problems, but we’re hamstrung by time constraints in general practice.’
Dr Andronis follows in the footsteps of fellow Victorian GP Dr Caroline Johnson, who was the most recent GP elected to the Mental Health Australia Board.
Both new and re-elected members were welcomed at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 10 December. Usually held in Canberra, this year’s event was hosted online, followed by the Grace Groom Memorial Oration with Federal Health Department Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy.
‘I genuinely believe 2021, born out of disruption of 2020, will be a year to be remembered for mental health reform,’ Professor Murphy said.
Dr Andronis certainly believes change is on the horizon.
She says the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the underlying mental health problems that have been brewing for some time now, and also amplified them as a result of social isolation measures and imposed lockdowns.
‘Governments have been more open to thinking about mental health too, because it’s been so obvious that when you ask people to socially isolate, you’re asking them to separate from the contexts and the people that usually support them and help them to keep healthy in their mental health,’ Dr Andronis said.
‘It’s been a time when we’ve had to focus on how the solution can also create problems, and therefore needs to be managed as well.
‘It’s quite common in medicine that we see side effects of medications and side effects of treatments. One of the major side effects of COVID and the COVID management has been mental health distress, and now that needs to be managed as well.’
Dr Andronis says she hopes that the social determinants of mental health – something that GPs see in their day-to-day practice – will be adequately acknowledged and addressed going forward.
‘We GPs see how much people are impacted by what life brings them – their work problems, their family issues, their economic situation, as well as their physical health issues,’ she said.
‘We get to see that full complexity, and I don’t think that it necessarily gets recognised because people are very quick to label people with diagnoses. But that’s not necessarily helpful, because a complex condition needs a more nuanced and multidisciplinary approach.
‘Having been elected to the actual Board of Mental Health Australia it will hopefully be a good opportunity to be able to understand the peak body, to understand how government responds to them, but also for them to understand how GPs work and what GPs believe the system in mental health requires so that we can work more effectively all round.’
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Dr Irandani Anandi Ranasinghe-Markus   15/12/2020 8:11:20 AM

Congratulations Cathy! I have every confidence in you as an advocate both for patients and us GPs. As a member of the RACGP Specific Interests Psychological Medicine Network I pledge my support for the task you have undertaken.

Dr Margaret Davison   15/12/2020 8:51:45 AM

Congratulations Hopefully they will listen

Dr Magdalena Simonis   15/12/2020 10:30:26 AM

Well done Cathy. This is brilliant news as we all know in GP-land, it’s GPs who provide the regular life changing counselling - whether it’s the 5 minute coaching tips at the end of a session that encourage behaviour change or the lengthy mental health consults. Congratulations.

Dr Erin Catherine Waters   15/12/2020 11:01:00 AM

Fantastic news for GPs and patients. Congratulations Cathy and thanks for all of your hard work towards making this happen.