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  • Bringing together physical and mental health is key to tackling suicide in defence

    Author: Charlotte Mitchell

Integrating physical and mental health care, by connecting services and addressing health system gaps, must be a priority in tackling suicide.

The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) submission to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide calls on governments to prioritise integrated approaches, ensuring mental and physical health is interconnected in service design.

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In a statement, APA National President Scott Willis said it is vital that physiotherapy is formalised in funding in the primary care setting, and that physiotherapy be formally recognised in addressing the physical well-being of people with mental health conditions.

“Mental health care for current Australian Defence Force (ADF) members and Veterans should be evidence-based and focused on wellbeing and long-term recovery,” Mr Willis said.

“We know that by enhancing physical health, we also promote mental well-being.

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“It’s time to unlock these benefits by formalising physiotherapy as part of the multidisciplinary team for ADF personnel and Veterans,” he said.

Mr Willis said APA members report seeing clients experiencing a range of mental health issues and even suicidality.

“It is not unusual for patients to disclose to a treating health provider, such as their physiotherapist, their personal and other health concerns.

“This is particularly relevant in environments where stress and anxiety is heightened and exacerbated, such as the military, policing and emergency services activities.

“It is clear that a person-centred approach is critical to bringing physical and mental health back together.

“All health providers have an important role to play in mental health care and suicide prevention. By making a key shift to integrate physical and mental pain treatments, we can advance new pathways to recovery.

“Physiotherapy has a key role in building better mental health – our overarching goal is to improve health, and physiotherapists know first-hand the reciprocal relationship between physical and mental health.

“There is clearly a strong link between poor physical health and mental health problems, particularly in learning to live with a long-term condition. A mental illness can also make it more challenging to stay physically healthy.

“But when patients reach out – every door is the wrong door for them.

“The health system fails to make these vital connections. It must be changed with more accessible and adaptable entry points to connect the physical and mental health needs of patients.

“Governments and providers must work towards an ‘every door is the right door’ health care structure to transform the mental health system.

“We need to transform the system to one in which people are supported, treated and managed mentally and physically by multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary teams.”

Mr Willis said that in making reform a reality, we need to invest in, and expand, multidisciplinary mental health teams, so they can deliver the diverse skills and expertise needed to provide mental and physical health care.

The APA’s submission highlights a way forward through six key recommendations to help strengthen pathways to ensure ADF personnel and Veterans get the care they deserve.

This includes expanding funding through Medicare access to private physiotherapy – recognising the benefit of physiotherapy-led interventions in chronic pain and physical ill health.

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Charlotte Mitchell

Charlotte is a published journalist and editor, with 10 years of experience in developing high-quality content for national and international publications.

With an academic background in both science and communications, she specialises in medical and science writing. Charlotte is passionate about creating engaging, evidence-based content that equips the community with important information on issues around healthcare, medicine and research.

Over the years, she has partnered with organisations including the Medical Journal of Australia, Cancer Council NSW, Bupa, the Australasian Medical Publishing Company, Dementia Australia, MDA National, pharmaceutical companies, and state and federal government agencies, to produce high-impact news and clinical content  for different audiences.