New report provides insight into people’s lived experience of distress and mental ill-health

Posted 12th October 2023 in Research news

The National Mental Health Commission has released a report providing insight into people’s lived experience of distress and mental ill-health in Australia.

The report, titled Curiosity, Compassion and Care, was written by Everymind, and provides plain language translations of research conducted by the University of New England on how people in Australia experience emotional and psychological distress and mental ill-health. Findings from the report aim to increase understanding of their experience, and what services and supports they have found helpful and unhelpful.

The University of New England undertook five research studies in October 2022, drawing on firsthand experiences of over 3,400 people who have experienced distress and mental ill-health.

The data was collected using a variety of methods including surveys, priority population specific focus groups, and literature reviews.

The report is presented in three parts:

  • Part one explores firsthand experiences of distress and mental ill-health
  • Part two provides a focus on services and supports
  • Part three synthesises the findings presented on the report.

Some of the key findings in the report include:

  • Research participants felt a strong need for transition away from a medical model to a person-centred approach that focused on curiosity, compassion and care.
  • Distress was often seen as 'less serious' by the service system where people experiencing distress were deemed less urgent than other health concerns.
  • There was a strong link between adverse childhood experiences and trauma, and experience of distress in adulthood.
  • Interpersonal concerns were the largest drivers of distress such as relationship issues and psychological or physical abuse.
  • Social isolation was identified as a significant theme across all the participant narratives and could contribute to more complex and acute periods of mental ill-health over time.
  • Research participants who contacted support services were not provided the support they required unless they were experiencing an immediate crisis.
  • Participants emphasised the importance of preventative approaches to connect people to the right support at the right time.

"I read every word of the five research studies synthesised in 'Curiosity, Compassion, and Care', which came with deep reflection and a few tears - tears because of people's experiences and because of the generosity in what they shared in the hope it would help others and reform our systems."

Dr Jaelea Skehan OAM, Director at Everymind

The report draws the following conclusions:

  • Change is required to shift the responsibility for ‘good mental health’ from the individual to a whole-of-community, whole-of-service system approach.
  • Services that increase connectedness and support people to connect with the right care at the right time must be prioritised.
  • An increased focus on early responses to distress across settings is required.
  • Increased monitoring of points of disconnection and transition will support us to improve the mental health system.
  • Consider moving away from describing mental ill-health as a single event or point in time.
  • Use language that takes a holistic view and incorporates the role of social determinants to describe distress.
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