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The consumer and carer perspective

Introduction

The Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan (Fifth Plan) establishes a national approach for collaborative government action to improve and better integrate mental health and related services in Australia, between 2017 and 2022. Under the Fifth Plan, governments have committed to undertaking 32 identified actions across eight priority areas.

Reporting on the progress of implementing mental health reform is essential in order to know if the commitments of the Fifth Plan are being honoured and are making a difference. To this end, the National Mental Health Commission (the Commission) has been tasked with providing an annual report on the progress of implementing the Fifth Plan actions, and Australia’s performance against a set of identified indicators. The Commission has opted to extend its Fifth Plan reporting to include an annual survey of mental health consumer and carer perspectives (Consumer and Carer Survey), that aims to measure if consumers and carers are experiencing the improvements and benefits outlined in the ‘what will be different for consumers and carers’ section of the eight Fifth Plan priority areas.


This report summarises the results from the second Consumer and Carer Survey, which captures experiences of the mental health system during March 2019 to March 2020. Where possible, comparisons will be made with the results of the 2019 Consumer and Carer Survey.


Survey respondents and data limitations

In 2020, 227 people (143 consumers and 84 carers) responded to the Consumer and Carer Survey. The majority of respondents in 2020 were female (79%) and over half were aged between 35 and 64 years (52%). This was similar to the distribution of respondents in the 2019 Consumer and Carer Survey. In 2020, nine respondents identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Due to the small number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents, it was not possible to analyse survey results by Indigenous status and survey results for Priority Area 4: Improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and suicide prevention, should be interpreted with caution. Additional information can be found at Appendix A.

The 2020 survey sample is less than half the size of the 2019 sample, and some demographic groups remain underrepresented. This is despite the Commission’s efforts to increase the size and national representativeness of the survey sample between years. The timing of the survey (mid-March to early May 2020) may explain the reduced participation in 2020, as it coincided with the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of the size and characteristics of the 2020 survey sample, results of the Consumer and Carer Survey may not represent the typical experience of consumers and carers in Australia. The small sample size also means that the survey is unlikely to detect small changes in consumer and carer experiences between years.

The Fifth Plan is one component of the National Mental Health Strategy. One long-term goal of the National Mental Health Strategy is to monitor mental health consumer and carer experiences of service. While the Your Experience of Service (YES) survey has been implemented by some jurisdictions for this purpose, national data is not currently available and available data is limited to public specialised mental health services. The Consumer and Carer Survey was developed and implemented by the Commission, with the assistance of the Fifth Plan Technical Advisory Group, with the aim of providing a broader picture of consumer and carer experiences of mental health services during the life of the Fifth Plan. The results of the Consumer and Carer Survey are not comparable to data from the YES survey, which is presented in the performance indicator section of the Commission’s Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan, 2019: Progress Report 2.

Each of the eight Fifth Plan priority areas includes a statement about ‘what will be different for consumers and carers.’ It is expected that consumer and carer experiences reported in the Consumer and Carer Survey will become increasingly aligned with these statements as the Fifth Plan is successfully implemented. However, it is not possible to relate changes detected in Consumer and Carer Survey results with the implementation of specific Fifth Plan actions.