Policy & advocacy
With the support of our members, we stand as a powerful advocate for community-based mental health in the ACT. We bring the perspectives of our sector to make positive change. We guide governments to shape mentally healthy policies and implement effective programs. We research and share the current priorities and trends within 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, including Carers ACT, ACT Mental Health Consumers Network, ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS), and Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT (ATODA).
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
Over the course of our lifetimes, the average Canberran has a 1 in 2 chance of experiencing a mental health condition. In Canberra, mental health conditions are the most common long-term health condition our population faces.
How we care for individuals’ mental health, and build our collective wellbeing, is important to all of us.
Mental health services
Mental health services are delivered by a range of government, private, and not-for-profit organisations in the ACT.
The federal government funds services through the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS), Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), Primary Health Networks (PHNs) such as the Capital Health Network, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
The private sector offers further funding for private psychiatric hospital care and private services provided by psychiatrists, psychologists and other allied health professionals.
The rest of mental health care – about two-thirds of total mental health care in the ACT – is provided by the community sector, by organisations such as our members.
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 community landscape
While the quality and availability of mental health services play a large role in the overall wellbeing of Canberrans, services are not the whole picture. It’s also important to address wider factors like:
- social support
- economic stability and the cost of living
- the availability of affordable housing
- levels of social inclusion and belonging
- efforts to destigmatise mental health
Creating a mentally healthy society involves a collective effort that extends beyond clinical interventions. Everyone has a role to play: individuals, families, community groups, schools, businesses, and more.
By addressing societal factors alongside improving mental health services, Canberra can cultivate an environment where individuals feel supported, connected, and empowered to prioritise their mental wellbeing.
Our advocacy pillars
As our planet experiences shifts in weather patterns, rising temperatures, and more frequent extreme events, we must recognise and work to mitigate the mental health impacts. The direct effects of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, can lead to trauma and stress. Additionally, gradual changes in climate, like prolonged heatwaves and unpredictable weather, contribute to heightened anxiety and emotional distress. Beyond these immediate concerns, the broader implications of climate change, such as extinction and loss of biodiversity, can lead to grief. Addressing climate change isn’t just an environmental imperative; it’s also crucial for safeguarding our mental health and fostering a resilient and sustainable future.
The perinatal period, during pregnancy, birth, and beyond, is a time of profound physical and emotional changes. Community-focused mental health initiatives provide essential support systems, offering peer connection, education, counseling, practical resources like clothing and change tables, and resources tailored to the unique challenges faced by expecting and new parents.
We champion efforts towards prevention, early intervention, stigma reduction, and fostering a nurturing cultural environment where parents feel understood and supported.
Investing in community mental health for perinatal care not only contributes to healthier parents but also lays the foundation for the long-term well-being of their children, creating a ripple effect that benefits families and communities as a whole.
Over a quarter of Canberrans report feeling lonely “often”, according to the Living Well in the ACT Region Survey, undertaken by the University of Canberra. We envision a Territory where everyone belongs. Our view is that addressing loneliness isn’t just a matter of “putting yourself out there”, but rather changing our social conditions that separate us from one another. For example:
- Improving work/life balance so that people have more leisure time to spend with their families and in their communities
- Car dependency and urban sprawl makes it hard to have important chance encounters with our own neighbours. Instead, investing more in parks, accessible footpaths, and amenities that make it easy for people to spend leisure time in their neighbourhoods
- Finding ways we can prevent technologies such as social media from dividing us and instead fostering greater connectivity.
There have been signficant developments in the area of justice and mental health in the ACT. The Territory has taken a health-centred approach to drug use through decriminalisation laws. This change reflects a commitment to addressing substance abuse as a public health matter, acknowledging the potential mental health impacts of punitive drug policies. Additionally, the territory has raised the age of criminal responsibility, a move that not only aligns with international standards but also reflects a nuanced understanding of the mental health and developmental considerations surrounding young individuals in the justice system. Our work on justice will aim to create further opportunities for our members to deliver their services in humane, health-driven, evidence-based ways.
Alliances and representation
To inform and elevate our advocacy work, we are a member of various groups linked to our priorities.