Demands exceeds supply when it comes to access of mental health services, which is projected to worsen as community mental fitness declines.
A partnership between the Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network (PHN), University of Newcastle and the University of New England (UNE) is seeking a new approach to address mental fitness.
The PHN will be leading a Mental Health Innovation Challenge in March, which will take an innovative approach in helping to identify solutions that will address the mental health crisis across the region.
According to PHN, the number of emergency department presentations for mental health and behavioural disorders in the Hunter New England and Central Coast regions is higher than the state average, with the highest number recorded in remote and rural areas.
This has all be exasperated by COVID-19 and natural disasters, such as bushfires and floods.
PHN CEO, Richard Nankervis, said in 2021, 11.5 people in 100 in the region reported experiencing a mental health condition, including depression and anxiety.
However, he added that PHN had no clear insight into the additional numbers of people living with mental health issues and do not seek professional help.
"Evidence tells us that early intervention is key to achieving and maintaining mental health fitness. The PHN is exploring what we can be doing to address this need," he said.
The Mental Health Innovation Challenge will connect a variety of people and organisations to explore solutions that will improve mental fitness of communities.
It will use an innovative, team-based explorative and iterative creative development process.
UNE can support 12 people to be a part of the challenge - which will have its face-to-face component in Newcastle on March 15 and 16 - working in teams to answer the challenge statement.
The winning teams will be invited to the next stage to further develop their ideas and potentially receive investment.
Director of the UNE SMART Region Incubator, Lou Conway, said the challenge statement was around how to build mental fitness in their communities.
"The pitch is 'what would it look like if we could actually build mental fitness in community?' and, 'is there some solutions around how we might do that', which would make a difference in terms of all the all the dreadful statistics that we know," she said.
"For healthcare, it could lead to start up opportunities. People who are actually doing things completely differently ... just got to keep pushing through.
"We know we don't have enough health practitioners coming through [these regions], the affordability is massive, and certainly access to people in the regions is huge."
Ms Conway added that a solutions based approach can start to tease out ideas that would be of great benefit to the community.
"We've run these innovation challenges over the last six years [in multiple industries] ... and it is extraordinary when you bring a combination of talents, especially if you've got young people, technologists, health practitioners, all working together to say, 'how might we do this differently'," she said.
The Challenge is seeking the involvement of participants who are interested in innovative thinking, including but not limited to people from different professions (such as healthcare), people who have lived experience with or care for someone with a mental health condition, students, researchers, innovators, technology providers and entrepreneurs.
Ms Conway said diversity in participants for the challenge would be great and that collaboration was key.
A series of events will be held in February 2024 with the challenge to be held on March 15 and 16, 2024.
For more information or to register your interest, visit: tinyurl.com/a9v7nxs5