22 May 2024

What does the mental health services landscape in South Western Sydney look like today – and how will we meet the expected increase in demand over the next decade? 

That was the focus of South Western Sydney Primary Health Network’s (SWSPHN) Mental Health Needs Assessment undertaken with insights from health professionals and community members throughout the region. The results, released earlier this year, revealed a range of key challenges and priorities both today and into the future to meet the mental health needs of our community. 

Participants at one of our Local Health Forums last year which focused on mental health.

They included: engaging with community leaders to convey key messages; increasing advertising; and improving targeted training for primary health care providers. 

Participants with professional or lived experience were approached by SWSPHN during a six-month consultation process.  

The objectives were: to understand mental health service projections; define vulnerable groups under-serviced by the Medicare Better Access initiative; understand the barriers and enablers to accessing mental health services; identify workforce experience and skills gaps; and identify opportunities to improve mental health services across South Western Sydney. 

Methods for information gathering included Local Health Forums (87 attendees), online surveys (completed by 62 community members and 27 mental health professionals) and structured interviews with 19 mental health professionals from the region. 

An extensive review of literature, health data and SWSPHN commissioned provider activity was undertaken to complete the report. 

Focus areas of the local health forums included barriers and challenges, opportunities for access, service navigation, care coordination, co-morbidity support and key priorities. 

For mental health professionals, the focus was on: underserviced groups; access barriers; care coordination; workforce experience and skills gaps; service provision barriers and perceptions of SWSPHN commissioned services. 

Figures obtained by the needs assessment showed 19.8 per cent of the South Western Sydney population of 221,864 people have likely experienced mental illness in 2023-24. Of those, 7.8 per cent (or 87,077) will require treatment for mild mental illness; 4.8 per cent (54,254) will require treatment for moderate mental illness; and 2.5 per cent will require treatment for severe mental illness. 

In 2023-24, Campbelltown had the highest predicted prevalence of mental illness compared to other areas (mild 8 per cent, moderate 5 per cent and severe 2.6 per cent respectively). 

The needs assessment identified several opportunities for mental health system improvement in South Western Sydney. Key priorities included: 

  • Priority 1: Enhancing community engagement and knowledge of mental health services by engaging with community leaders to convey key messages; increasing advertising and promotional material; and improving HealthPathways targeted training for primary care providers. 
  • Priority 2: Developing the mental health workforce capacity by upskilling GPs in key areas; establishing a SWSPHN-led webinar series to support primary care workers; and building capacity in the mental health workforce to improve accessibility.  
  • Priority 3: Improving care coordination and discharge planning by implementing an effective system; facilitating multi-disciplinary case conferences with GPs and mental health providers; and establishing inter-agency meetings to improve service awareness. 
  • Priority 4: Enhancing funding to improve accessibility to services such as early intervention and prevention programs in schools; increased services to support those experiencing a traumatic event; and improved service provider collaboration to support patient connection to services. 
  • Priority 5: Improving the SWSPHN mental health intake process and increasing follow-ups for vulnerable patients. 
Download the report