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Issue Three:
Head to Health

Head to Health is a national initiative that came about as part of the Australian Government’s commitment in the 2019-2020 Budget to investing in adult mental health, with a trial of eight Adult Mental Health Centres to be set up across the country. Currently, Head to Health has 19 hub locations across all states and territories, with eight of them situated in NSW. Head to Health operates in five key locations in Western Sydney: Penrith, Liverpool, Parramatta, Hawkesbury, and Canterbury. On paper, Head to Health offers short-term treatment, typically spanning three to six months, with a range of supports to suit the diverse needs of the service users at these various locations. This includes clinical support, peer group sessions, and one-to-one consultations. But in practice, this comprehensive mental health support proves that it goes beyond traditional clinical interventions. It integrates mental health services and education into the communities in which it operates, and focuses on providing accessible, holistic support to adults experiencing mental health challenges within a safe and welcoming space.  

Head to Health centres and satellites, collectively referred to as sites, are designed to provide a welcoming, low stigma, soft entry point to engagement, assessment and treatment for people who may be experiencing distress or crisis, including people with conditions too complex for many current primary care services but who are not eligible for or who need more timely care than that available from state or territory public community mental health… It will assist adults seeking help in times of crisis, or as needs emerge, to have access to on-the-spot care, advice and support provided by mental health professionals – without needing a prior appointment. Department of Health, 2021. 

Head to Health does not operate from a hierarchical service model; rather, its holistic and collaborative approach to mental health involves the learned expertise of various health professionals as well as the lived expertise of the people who access its services., the team is diverse, comprising individuals from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, peer workers with lived experiences of mental health, social workers, psychologists, clinicians specialising in Alcohol and other Drugs (AOD) support, and a social inclusion coordinator focusing on vulnerable groups such as CALD, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and LGBTQIA+ communities. In the Parramatta hub specifically, they partner with local community organisations and stakeholders including employment agencies, councils, NDIS services, libraries, housing services, and schools. The Head to Health hub in Canterbury partners with The Waiting Room, staffed by clinical nurses to support with medication needs, mental health assessments, and more. They also partner with an exercise physiologist to provide services for physical health as complementary to the mental health support they offer. This approach ensures that the service user experiences wrap-around support for any type of interconnecting and overlapping challenges they may be facing. 

What makes Head to Health especially effective is its focus on accessibility at a strategic level. The five locations in Western Syndney are geographically dispersed, and require no criteria for treatment. This means that anyone 18 and above can access Head to Health without needing any documentation, diagnosis, referral, or Medicare card. They also tap into the collective expertise of the culturally and CALD workers to bring a level of cultural sensitivity in their service delivery. For example, the Head to Health hub in Canterbury has hired bilingual workers who speak Arabic, to cater for the larger population of Arabic-speakers in their area. They have also noticed a gap in services for youth mental health, and due to their No Wrong Door policy, they welcome individuals as young as five years old who have not been able to find support elsewhere. They have also established colocations within existing services to increase accessibility for the community. This type of openness and flexibility ensures inclusivity and accessibility for a wide range of individuals. And in a region as geographically and demographically diverse as Western Sydney, this kind of initiative is crucial to supporting adults who might otherwise not be able to access services due to distance, cost, or cultural barriers. 

Apart from the Head to Health hubs, Head to Health also has a national mental health website, various Pop Up clinics, and a phone line, all of which is available free of charge to anyone experiencing mental distress or seeking mental health support or education. These services address the evolving needs of the region, where the service meets the community where they are, using the existing community resources and partnerships to support individuals. Its counselling, psychoeducation, and community-based programs provide a holistic, community-driven model that emphasises accessibility, cultural sensitivity, and collaboration. 

Evidence in practice
A holistic and collaborative approach to mental health involves a partnership between a range of health professionals from different fields working together and sharing authority and power with the service user and their loved ones, to be able to provide effective care (Thomas & Hargett, 1999). To be successful, it relies on cooperation, communication and a commitment to supporting every aspect of the whole person in their treatment.
Focusing on accessibility in an organisation’s strategic decision-making enables them to put location, cultural sensitivity, and affordability at the forefront of their service delivery to be able to improve the service user’s experience with accessing mental health support. Having free or subsidised culturally sensitive services, with translation and interpreter support, at locations that are easy to access and with no waitlists is crucial to creating inclusive and accessible services (Williams, 2009).
References

Department of Health. (2021). Service Model for Head to Health Adult Mental Health Centres and Satellites. Available from  

https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2022/07/service-model-for-head-to-health-adult-mental-health-centres-and-satellites—revised-june-2021.pdf 

Thomas, S. A., & Hargett, T. (1999). Mental Health Care: A Collaborative, Holistic Approach. Holistic Nursing Practice 13(2), pp. 78-85. Available from 

https://journals.lww.com/hnpjournal/abstract/1999/01000/mental_health_care__a_collaborative,_holistic.12.aspx  

Williams, C. C. (2009). Increasing access and building equity into mental health services: An examination of the potential for change. Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, 20(1), 37-51. Available from  

https://www.cjcmh.com/doi/pdf/10.7870/cjcmh-2001-0003?src=recsys  

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