Policy & advocacy
Together with our members, we are a strong voice for community-managed mental health services in the ACT.
We achieve this by representing the views of the sector to influence systemic change, advising governments on policy development and program implementation, and advocating on behalf of the community-managed mental health sector in relation to funding, workforce planning and other matters.
We also undertake research and report on current priorities and directions in the sector.
We engage directly with the ACT Government, including ACT Health and the Office of Mental Health and Wellbeing. We also engage with Capital Health Network, the ACT’s primary health network, which distributes funding from the Federal Department of Health and Aged Care, and with the National Disability Insurance Agency, which oversees the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
We conduct and participate in regular consultation activities involving our members and other service providers, consumers and carers to inform our work and to provide an influential and trusted voice on mental health policy. We maintain close working relationships with other ACT peak bodies, particularly Carers ACT, ACT Mental Health Consumers Network and ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS).
We also work with national organisations and peak bodies to influence federal policy that affects the ACT, such as Community Mental Health Australia, Mental Health Australia, and the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia.
Mental health in the ACT
According to ABS data, almost half of Australians have experienced a mental health condition at some point in their life, and one in five Australians experience mental ill health in any given year.
In the 2021 census, one in 10 Canberrans reported having a long-term mental health condition, making it the most common long-term health condition: more common than asthma or arthritis. The ACT had the second-highest rate of long-term mental health conditions of any jurisdiction in Australia.
Mental health services are delivered by a range of government, private and not-for-profit organisations in the ACT.
The ACT Government provides mental health services directly and through partnerships with community organisations, mainly coordinated by the Office of Mental Health and Wellbeing. The Federal Government also funds some services, primarily through the Capital Health Network. The National Disability Insurance Scheme also funds a range of mental health services.
For a more detailed understanding of the ACT mental health system, see Overview Paper: Characteristics of the ACT Mental Health System, prepared by the Capital Health Network and ACT Health.
Our policy focus
Since the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was introduced in the ACT in 2016, per capita funding for community-managed mental health services outside of the NDIS has nearly halved, leading to a dramatic loss of services for the majority of Canberrans living with mental health conditions.
Evidence-base for increased investment
In 2020, the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Mental Health recognised the importance of the community-managed mental health sector and set out the case for greater investment.
Demand for mental health services more than doubled over the decade to 2018–19 and has increased further during the pandemic. However, the ACT Government’s recurrent expenditure on specialised mental health services increased by less than 50 per cent over that period, and the share of funding to community-managed mental health services decreased significantly.
Psychosocial support program funding
Psychosocial supports are community-based services and supports that help people with severe and complex mental health conditions to live well, recover in their communities and experience better quality of life. They include rehabilitation support services, self-help and peer support, accommodation support and outreach, employment and education support, leisure and recreation activities, family and carer support, and information, advocacy and promotion.
These services reduce the number of people in mental health crises, keeping them out of over-stretched and expensive acute, hospital-based services.
More than 150,000 people in Australia (estimated to include at least 2,500 Canberrans) with severe and complex mental health conditions are currently receiving no psychosocial support services from either the NDIS or from any other Commonwealth or state/territory-funded services.
- Briefing, August 2022: National Psychosocial Support Advocacy Alliance
- Media release, December 2022: Crucial mental health services forgotten by government, likely to close
- Media release, October 2022: ‘Wellbeing’ Budget largely ignores mental health
- Media release, June 2022: The data is in; now we need action on mental health
- Media release, May 2022: Lack of funding to leave Canberrans with mental health conditions without support.
Mental healthcare requires an effective, integrated system of community-focused treatment and support. However, the mental health sector in the ACT and across Australia is highly siloed, leaving consumers without the holistic care they need to help their recovery journey.
The Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Mental Health Report in 2020 called for generational reform to create a person-centred mental health system. In 2022, the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement came into force, seeking to improve the mental health of all Australians, reduce the rate of suicide toward zero, and ensure the sustainability and enhance the services of the Australian mental health and suicide prevention system.
ACT Government commissioning process
The ACT Government is implementing a new funding model for community-managed services called commissioning. This model includes a greater focus on ensuring services and programs are meeting the needs of our community through the implementation of outcome measurements.
This process is now underway for the mental health sector.
To inform this process, we conducted a scoping project in 2022, with funding from ACT Health, to explore and identify the most relevant, evidence-based and appropriate tools for measuring service outcomes for mental health consumers and/or carers in the ACT.
We provided our project findings and recommendations in February 2023.
- Publication, February 2023: Introducing outcome measurement for non-government mental health services in the ACT
- Op ed, October 2022: There’s a better model of care for the ACT
- Media release, June 2022: The data is in; now we need action on mental health
- Media release, August 2022: ACT Budget investments in mental health are welcome, but mainly for bandaid solutions
Community-managed mental health services across Canberra—and Australia—are experiencing intense and unsustainable pressures from increasing demand, growing complexity in people’s mental health needs, and chronic under-resourcing and understaffing.
The sector is experiencing high levels of burnout and low morale, and mental health services are struggling to recruit, train and retain staff with the necessary skills and experience. As a result, workforce growth is not keeping up with the demands on services.
Workforce data collection
Advocacy for our sector workforce has historically been hampered by a lack of systemic data collection.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare collects data on the number of psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health nurses, but not relating to the community-managed mental health sector.
In 2022 we commissioned research into the size and nature of the workforce in the ACT community-managed mental health sector.
- Submission, September 2021: Feedback to the draft National Mental Health Workforce paper
- Op ed, October 2022: There’s a better model of care for the ACT.
- 2023 Infographics on the Community-Managed Mental Health Workforce.
- ACT’s community-managed mental health workforce ‘under-valued and under pressure’: report, RiotACT July 2023 article.
We are committed to supporting our members to offer sustainable, safe, quality services to people with psychosocial disability within the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
While the NDIS has made an enormous difference to many people living with disability, there are many people living with complex and ongoing mental health challenges that are not eligible for NDIS support. The Australian Government has estimated that 230,000 Australians with severe mental illness need support, but less than 60,000 people with a primary psychosocial disability are NDIS participants. Those who are ineligible for the NDIS often rely on community-managed mental health services, or they fall through the gaps entirely.
The NDIS was initially designed to be only one part of the disability support system in Australia; however, it has become the primary recipient of government funding. Since the NDIS was introduced in the ACT in 2016, per capita funding for community-managed mental health services outside of the NDIS has nearly halved, leading to a dramatic loss of services for the vast majority of Canberrans living with mental illness.
In October 2022, the Federal Government announced a review into the NDIS.
- Submission, June 2021: Feedback on the NDIS proposed legislative changes to the NDIS Act
- Publication, June 2018: When the NDIS came to the ACT.
Mental health is not an isolated issue. Many social factors can make people more likely to experience mental health conditions, and mental ill-health can contribute to significant social and financial concerns.
To improve the mental health of the Canberra community, governments need to look at these drivers and eliminate the social and economic impacts that can contribute to distress.
A key aspect of this, according to the World Health Organisation, is reducing social inequalities that result in unfavourable social, economic, and environmental circumstances.
Stable, safe and quality housing is a critical foundation for mental health.
People living with mental health conditions are at an increased risk of homelessness, as some can find it challenging to earn a stable income, and they are more likely to be socially isolated. On the other hand, the psychological distress of being without a stable home increases the risk of mental health conditions and can exacerbate existing conditions.
In the ACT, more than half of the people who present to specialist homelessness services (SHS) have a current mental health issue, according to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (AIHW). The rate of people with a current mental health issue seeking homelessness services in the ACT continues to increase and is well above the national average.
- Submission, September 2022: Public Exposure Draft of the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2022
- Submission, March 2021: MHCC ACT response to House Inquiry around Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
- Media release, August 2022: Homelessness and mental health: connected and both failed by government inaction.
Read our policy documents
Alliances and representation
To inform and elevate our advocacy work, we are a member of various groups linked to our priorities.