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Strengthening mental health NGOs

The non-government mental health sector is a critical part of the mental health system in Queensland, yet faces multiple challenges to its sustainability. We commissioned research to better understand the state of the sector and outline a roadmap for a sustainable future.

The study offers an opportunity to maximise the potential of the non-government community mental health sector and embrace its unique offering within the broader mental health system. 

Importantly, it looks at how the NGO mental health system can be better positioned to meet the diverse needs of people living with mental ill-health.

"The organisation provides person-centred care in communities where people live. Key to this is encouraging relationships and connectedness, fostering hope, promoting physical health and supporting self-management, which helps people to remain at home"

(Submission 123, Inquiry into the opportunities to improve mental health outcomes for Queenslanders)

What we did

We partnered with the Queensland Alliance for Mental Health to undertake a systematic analysis of the non-government community mental health sector in Queensland and report on the findings.

The Pathways to mental wellbeing report was commissioned in 2021, and Griffith University and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute were engaged to undertake background research for the report. 
The purpose of the report was to provide a comprehensive understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges of the non-government (NGO) community mental health sector to help inform the strategic direction of the sector. 

How does this support reform?
Shifting from managing illness to actively supporting wellbeing is a priority in the QAMH’s Wellbeing First report. 

It also aligns with the Commission’s broader Queensland government’s vision, articulated in Shifting minds of reorientating the mental health system towards community-based services and supports. 

Key findings
The systematic analysis explores and critically evaluates the current state of the sector and offers a roadmap for moving beyond existing models of care. 

Evidence suggests that the NGO community mental health sector provides invaluable, highly effective, and life-changing supports for people in distress. 

However, there is also a sense that the sector is prevented from reaching its full potential by significant challenges such as: 

  • insecure and unsustainable funding models
  • geographic maldistribution of services
  • ongoing stigma and discrimination, and 
  • a system that continues to prioritise clinical approaches over non-clinical psychosocial supports. 

System-wide challenges such as workforce shortages, difficulties accessing a complex system built upon eligibility criteria, and lack of culturally appropriate services are well-documented. 

There is also a collective view that despite positive signs that lived experience is becoming embedded within the sector, there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of truly equal partnerships and co-production of service design and delivery.

Looking to the future, there is strong alignment between people with a personal lived experience of mental illness, including carers, family, kin and other supporters, and NGO staff. This includes agreement on the strengths of the sector, which include:

  • commonality of purpose
  • close connection with community, and 
  • the positioning of the sector at an important intersection between broader health and community systems.

A clear message running through this systematic analysis is a battle-weariness that comes from participating in a long line of reviews, inquiries, reports and analyses which fail to implement real change. There is a widely held view that the recommendations for reform presented here must be accompanied by tangible action at a grassroots level.

Success imperatives
The five-year roadmap presented at the end of this report brings together the many voices heard throughout this systematic analysis. 

It identifies the success imperatives as:

1. sector visibility and identity

2. lived experience

3. data and evaluation

4. integration and coordination

5. funding reform

6. workforce development and 

7. innovative community-based responses. 

The roadmap provides the blueprint to bring about deep transformational change, pivoting to a new way of supporting people in distress and actualising the Wellbeing First vision.

If you would like to find out more about this work, you are welcome to get in touch with the Commission via