Evaluation of the national mental health strategy

Foreword

Page last updated: December 1997

This report represents the completion of a challenging but rewarding task assigned by the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council (AHMAC) in 1995. The brief from AHMAC required us to evaluate the effectiveness and appropriateness of the National Mental Health Strategy and advise on steps to be taken to continue the process of reform. For those familiar with mental health issues in Australia, and the background to the National Mental Health Strategy, it was clear that the committee's work would be complex and demanding.

The evaluation process was split into two stages. The first stage, completed in June 1996, reviewed progress in the implementation of the Strategy over its first three years. In that phase, we examined the extent to which the policy was being converted to action and identified barriers to its successful achievement. Our report of this stage concluded that the National Mental Health Strategy provided a strong policy framework that facilitated actions at the State, Territory and national levels. Three years into the Strategy, it was clear that major structural change had commenced in the majority of jurisdictions but the pace and scale of developments was varied. No information was available at that stage on whether these changes had produced better outcomes from the perspective of consumers and carers.

The second stage of the evaluation addressed the more complex issue of policy outcome, or the extent to which the Strategy has been effective in meeting its objectives. Our approach to this issue involved considerable consultation and independent research studies conducted throughout 1997.

Over the two and a half years in which it operated, the Committee learned a great deal about the National Mental Health Strategy, both its strengths and weaknesses. It had the benefit of reviewing the many reports generated under the Strategy as well as meeting with a wide range of groups and experts who appeared before it. We have also had the opportunity to gain insights about mental health in Australia from the independent research projects specifically commissioned to address the Terms of Reference.

We have been genuinely impressed with the level of activity generated under the National Mental Health Strategy as well as the many talented people who have been mobilised to solve long standing problems. We have been particularly impressed by the courage of consumers and carers whose lives have been deeply affected by the experience of mental illness, and who are now taking the opportunities created under the Strategy to change things for the better. We have been very mindful of our responsibilities to adequately reflect the contributions made by these groups to the evaluation.

On behalf of the Committee, I am very pleased to now present this final report to the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council. The report summarises the committee's key findings and brings together the conclusions and recommendations that we formed during our two and a half years of activity. It has been prepared in as simple a form as possible, to synthesise the key messages emerging from our investigations. Supplementary reports of the independent research studies commissioned by the Committee have been prepared as separate documents that contain the range of data considered in preparing this report.

In presenting the report, I wish to convey the Committee's sincere appreciation to all those who contributed their time to the evaluation. This involved many hundreds of health professionals, mental health consumers and carers as well as others not directly engaged in the mental health industry. The evaluation could not have been completed without their efforts.

I also wish to express my gratitude to the members of the Committee who worked tirelessly in coming to grips with the task and resolving a wide range of complex issues. Finally, I wish to convey our appreciation to the staff of the Mental Health Branch of the Department of Health & Family Services who provided not only the secretariat support to the Committee, but also the benefits of their national perspective and experience of the Strategy since it began.


Harry Eagleton
Chair
National Mental Health Strategy
Evaluation Steering Committee

Sydney, December 1997
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