More than Pills and Beds: Contemporary Challenges in Social Work Practice and Mental Healthcare

More than Pills and Beds: Contemporary Challenges in Social Work Practice and Mental Healthcare

Sebastian Rosenberg (University of Sydney, Australia) and Fiona McDermott (Monash University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0159-6.ch047
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Abstract

Contemporary models of mental healthcare emphasise the importance of multi-disciplinary approaches in supporting recovery for consumers. There is growing evidence of the key role to be played by social workers derived from both the principles of recovery and those underpinning social work theory and practice, particularly a focus on person-in-environment. However, pressures on the way mental healthcare is provided in Australia are threatening this confluence. These pressures are much more concerned with the needs of funders than professionals, consumers, and their families. The aim of this chapter is to explore the evidence to support social work as an integral element in mental health recovery and to better understand these emerging challenges. The role of social work in good mental healthcare is too important to become marginalized; yet this prospect is real. Better understanding of the contemporary landscape of social work can help ensure this does not occur.
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Background

It is worth providing a brief context in relation to Australia’s current mental health system. Mental illness is common. One in five people will experience a mental illness in any year and almost half the population will experience a mental illness in their lifetime (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2008).

Australia’s mental health system has a very limited penetration of services with only 35% of people with a mental illness receiving care (ABS, 2008). Depressingly, this rate of access is largely unchanged over the past decade (ABS, 1998). This may have improved since the advent of the Better Access Program in 2006, to be discussed later in this chapter, though this is not verifiable.

It is widely regarded that mental health is underfunded in Australia (and worldwide) (World Health Organisation, 2003). While mental illness accounts for 13% of the burden of disease in Australia (Mathers, Vos, & Stevenson, 1999), it accounts for only around 5% of total health spending (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW], 2012). Mental health spending has increased over recent years by an average of 4.8% but has failed to keep pace with the increase in overall health spending over the past decade (5.3%) (AIHW, 2012). In other words, mental health’s share of total health spending is waning not waxing.

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