A community mental health conference has heard that despite failings of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, it was vital to support the scheme.

More than 700 people attended the National NDIS & Mental Health Conference hosted by Mental Health Victoria and Community Mental Health Australia (CMHA). For two days professionals and consumers heard from 83 speakers about the state of the sector, the NDIS and more.

Sarah Henderson Assistant Disabilities Minister, said the Federal Government was listening and “we will continue to listen because it is absolutely vital to ensure NDIS delivers strong outcomes for people with psychosocial disability”. 

“Under the previous system, providers were limited in the support they could provide. The average annual cost of supports for clients with mental illness was only $6,500. Most participants with psychosocial disability with NDIS plans now receive between $20,000 and $100,000 a year.

Funding was expected to continue to increase overall to support NDIS participants with psychosocial disability, she said, along with $19 million provided to Primary Health Networks in the interim.

Around 64,000 people with a long-term psychosocial disability are expected to access the scheme. Of those, 30 percent would previously not have received support. “There is the promise of strong outcomes for people with psychosocial disability,” Ms Henderson said.

Former Prime Minister and Beyond Blue chairwoman Julia Gillard, who delivered the keynote address, said despite criticism of the NDIS, she remained immensely proud of the reform which her government introduced in 2013. The NDIS has incredible scope and complexity, she said. “As frustrating as all this seems right now... we need to take the time to get it right.”

Lucy Brogden chairwoman of the National Mental Health Commission, said despite its flaws, the NDIS “is doing good things”. “We’re not saying it’s perfect and all working. But want to put some balance out there.”

Wellways Chief Executive Officer Liz Crowther said under the new system, many people were missing out on essential grassroots support. "If we don’t work in our communities, we’re not paying attention to where people spend the main parts of their lives. In the old system, community mental health did. Who’s going to build that community capacity now?” 

The conference heard from both workers and consumers that the NDIS was fragmented, difficult to navigate and too bureaucratic. Consumer David Peters said navigating the system was, “difficult enough when you’re a well person, let alone if you have a mental illness.”
“The NDIS is going to support a fraction of this community,” Ms Crowther said.

At the conference conclusion, CEO Elizabeth Crowther – who until recently was also president of CMHA – took part in a lively panel discussing the way ahead for community mental health in an ever-changing landscape. It was illuminating and valuable to approach the debate from several perspectives, including that of consumers.