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Listening to lived experience to inform design

Health Infrastructure (HI) is building better mental health care infrastructure through the $700 million Statewide Mental Health Infrastructure Program (SWMHIP), delivering purpose-built infrastructure, improving facilities, and supporting greater access to world-class clinical services for people experiencing mental illness, their families, carers and staff across NSW.  

With one in five Australians over 16 years old experiencing mental illness each year, and 45 per cent of Australians predicted to experience a mental health concern in their lifetime, mental illness has a significant effect on regional, rural and metropolitan communities.  

The seven to ten-year SWMHIP focusses on potential gaps in specialist statewide mental health services and facilities, with several priority projects identified throughout early planning, including the Banksia Mental Health Unit at Tamworth Hospital

Health Infrastructure Communication & Engagement Lead, Kylie Neville, recently led a community consultation roadshow within the Hunter New England Local Health District (LHD), to gather vital feedback from the community to inform design elements of this new unit.  

She says involving the community and people with lived mental health experience is essential to giving people the best chance to recover and heal.  

“Communities have a sense of place and connection to health facilities, especially in the regions, so it’s important they have their say,” said Kylie. “Approaching the community to talk about mental health also helped to destigmatise mental health and mental health units.” 

“The Banksia Unit will be the mental health unit for many small and large towns in the LHD,” said Kylie. “So, we had lots of ways to connect with people – targeted focus groups, an established co-design team made up of staff, consumers and carers, an online survey and a regional roadshow. 

“For the roadshow, we identified locations within Hunter New England LHD including Tenterfield, Armidale, Inverell, Glenn Innes, Moree and two locations in Tamworth. At each location we set up an information stand and created an informal setting for people to chat with us.  

“Visiting these multiple locations across the region gave people with lived experience the opportunity to share their experience and have their say on design elements such as the paint colours, types of plants and lighting in the new unit that can have such a big impact on mental health. 

“The roadshow was important to reach our target audience, particularly those people who may not have access to technology or may be impacted by geographical isolation.  

“The online survey was just as important because it helped to gain access into areas we couldn't physically visit within our timeframes and also reach those who couldn’t attend our information stands.”   

More than 300 people visited the roadshow pop-ups and more than 120 people completed the online survey. 

“It was really encouraging to have so many people engage with us,” said Kylie. “Most importantly, we hit our target of engaging people with lived experience of mental health.  

“We gathered really useful feedback on the design of the new unit, and we found the roadshow extremely valuable for this project because it helped to bring together and connect our stakeholders.” 

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Image above: Artist impressions - Banksia Mental Health Unit at Tamworth Hospital, SWMHIP.

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