Date Published: 18 September 2005

Holistic mental health care trial at Wollongong University, Australia

Health News from Australia.

A team of researchers at the University of Wollongong (Australia) is leading the way in a new treatment and training program that could revolutionise mental health care. The program is being funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) under the Australian Integrated Mental Health Initiative (AIMhi) and involves training mental health workers in a new approach that moves beyond traditional medical treatments for patients.

The model, which has been referred to as the Collaborative Recovery Model, focuses on treating sufferers more holistically by helping them manage their own symptoms and motivating them to set goals, achieve dreams and lead fulfilling and rewarding lives, despite their psychiatric disability.

A major emphasis in the program is for patients to become involved and play a significant role in their own treatment and rehabilitation. The Illawarra Institute for Mental Health at the University of Wollongong co-ordinates 10 trial sites in Australia and is collaborating with the University of Queensland on the project. Chief Investigators Dr. Lindsay Oades and Professor Frank Deane and a team of PhD students are responsible for training 250 mental health workers who are in turn treating over 200 patients with mental illness, primarily schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

" This program is really helping to destroy the stigma attached to individuals suffering from severe and enduring psychiatric disability," said Dr. Oades.

" There has always been this notion of helplessness and that patients are unable to fend for themselves, but AIMhi is helping patients to take ownership of their own health and treatment and we're seeing some very positive results."

Professor Deane said that the trial attempts to capture a definition of 'recovery' that many mental health care service consumers advocate.

" When most people think of recovery for patients with a mental illness, they think symptom reduction. However this new model goes much further than symptom reduction," he said.

" It places symptoms into context so that sufferers can have an improved quality of life and track their own progress. Medication is still part of the AIMhi approach, but it's only one aspect of treatment."

Professor Deane said that the broader view of recovery forms part of the underlying philosophy of the training program as does a strong emphasis on development of a strong relationship between the patient and mental health worker. In addition, there are specific skill sets that cover assessment of patient's needs, motivational enhancement, goal negotiation and monitoring task assignments to help achieve those goals.

Since the trial began in June 2003, there have been significant improvements in the trained workers including attitudes towards care and recovery, a sense of hopefulness for patients and a number of achieved outcomes and goals. While final results will not be available until the end of the trial in 2007, anecdotal reports suggest that patients are already responding extremely well to the new form of treatment which is generating interest around Australia.

Source(s): The University of Wollongong, Australia

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