Over-reliance on medication, but pharmacy is ready

Woman with headache pills

The Final Report of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System has outlined an “ambitious reform agenda” to redesign Victoria’s mental health and wellbeing system

Welcomed by the Victorian branch of the Pharmacy Guild, the final report notes that “despite the goodwill and hard work of so many people,” the state’s mental health system has been deteriorating for many years, for “a multitude” of reasons.

One issue it highlights is an “over-reliance on medications”.

“Services have come to rely on medication as the main, or sometimes only, treatment people can receive due to major system-wide challenges, such as under-resourcing,” it says.

“This has led to an imbalance, with a lack of focus on therapeutic interventions and recovery-centred treatment, care and support.”

It is also driven by crises, with emergency departments used as entry points.

“The present system is not designed or equipped to support the diverse needs of people living with mental illness or psychological distress, families, carers and supporters, let alone to cope with unforeseen pressures that may arise,” the report states.

“The 2019–20 severe bushfire season and the COVID-19 pandemic shone further light on the pressures on the mental health system.

“Due to system constraints, services are often inaccessible at the times when they would make the most difference, and the system largely operates in crisis mode—that is, it tends to react to mental health crises rather than preventing them.

“The system is complex and fragmented and, for those who do manage to get into it, difficult to navigate. People experience enormous frustration and distress when trying to identify the right mental health services for themselves or someone else.”

The report comprises five volumes, and sets out 65 recommendations to transform the state’s mental health system.

The Guild’s Victorian branch said it commends the state Government for calling the Royal Commission, committing to implementing all its recommendations, and for the large-scale investment it has provided.

The Victorian Budget 2020/21 includes $868.6 million – the biggest mental health investment in the history of the state – “to ensure Victorians have the support they need as we get on with fixing a broken system”, it notes.

Community-based mental health and wellbeing services in the future will offer a full range of supports that people living with mental illness or psychological distress need in order to recover and lead contributing lives.

This is a major change to the way that mental health treatment, care and support is delivered in Victoria.

The President of the Victorian Branch of the Guild, Anthony Tassone, said, “The Guild takes this opportunity to again reiterate community pharmacy’s readiness and willingness to be part of the solution”.

“As the most accessible health professionals, community pharmacists can play a critical role in the provision of mental health services including prevention, health promotion, medicines management and monitoring.  

“This is particularly evident in rural and regional areas.

“We believe that there are many social and economic benefits that would result from engaging community pharmacy to contribute to improving the provision of mental health care services including as part of a multidisciplinary mental healthcare team.

“We stand ready to work with the Victorian government to help implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission for the benefit of Victorian patients.”

Access the report here.

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