Fay Jackson didn’t get her first permanent job until she was 40.
It was only a couple of days a week, yet within two years she had become the director of the health service that gave her that chance.
Today Ms Jackson is a deputy commissioner of the NSW Mental Health Commission, which on Monday released a major strategic plan for mental health in this state.
Before the news of the CBD terror attack spread on Monday morning, Premier Mike Baird, Mental Health Minister Jai Rowell, and Health Minister Jillian Skinner were at Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross to launch a radical, all-of-government approach that aims to stop people with mental illnesses such as Ms Jackson from being excluded from work and social life.
After having symptoms of mental illness from about the age of 10, Ms Jackson dropped out of school in year 10 and was unable to get help until her problems reached crisis point and she ended up in hospital.
By that point she was told by doctors she would never be well enough to hold down a job, never be a valuable member of society.
“Now I’m living a recovered, contributing life,” Ms Jackson said. “I love being a taxpayer and I wish I could have been a taxpayer since I was a teenager.”
A key part of the plan, which will come with $115 million in extra funding rolled out during the next three years, is a shift to ensure people receive help in the community before their illness reaches crisis point.
Premier Mike Baird said the funding would also send a signal to local health districts about how they should be planning mental healthcare, and aiming to keep people out of hospital.
“I think this is a historic day for the state of NSW in terms of the difference we are going to make,” he said.
Mental Health Minister Jai Rowell said almost 50 per cent of the population would experience some mental health issues in their lifetime.
“Mental illness doesn’t discriminate, it can affect anyone, anywhere, anytime … that’s why these reforms are so important,” he said.
The commission has recommended a “no-wrong-door” approach to mental health planning that will involve schools, front-line government workers and the judiciary being given mental health training and literacy.
Schools will have increased services for children with complex needs, while the government will also increase the number of “whole family teams” to provide specialist intervention in the homes of parents who have drug and alcohol or mental health problems.
For those who have already developed mental health problems, the government has announced new funding will be directed towards expanding community support. Some people already in community care will receive funding for up to 15 per cent more hours of community treatment, while the government will expand housing support programs and develop personalised plans to gradually shift 380 people who have lived in long-term psychiatric care back into the community.
Mental Health Commission head John Feneley said the shift in government policy was “transformational”.
“What we are talking about today is one of those once-in-a-generation things where you either take the opportunity or you fail,” he said.
“There’s nothing wrong with the hospital system, but like all illnesses you really only want to use them when it’s really necessary”.
The commission’s report, also released on Monday, called on NSW to move from spending the least of any state or territory on community mental health, to spending the most, by 2017.
This article first appeared on ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’ on 15 December 2014.