Pathways of recovery: preventing further episodes of mental illness (monograph)

The role of psychiatric disability support services

Page last updated: 2006

Special mention needs to be made of psychiatric disability support and rehabilitation services. This sector is well-developed in some jurisdictions, for example Victoria and some area health services in NSW. In these areas, this sector is able to provide significant support for people in the community that helps to prevent relapse and supports recovery. Other jurisdictions have very little in the way of psychiatric disability support and these types of services are few and fragmented; in such areas access to this essential component of relapse prevention is severely restricted and people are more likely to be unsupported when in the community and experience the revolving door of readmission to hospital.

Here it's either in hospital or out – there is nothing else in between. —Consumer
Psychiatric disability support and "rehabilitation refers to the services and technologies that are made available to people with disabilities so that they might learn to adapt to their world" (Curtis 2001). Many of the alternatives covered in the previous section are the domain of psychiatric disability support and rehabilitation. For example, many accommodation services, employment, education and social programs are provided through the psychiatric disability support and rehabilitation service sector, and often by non-government organisations.

In Victoria, Psychiatric Disability Rehabilitation and Support Services are part of Primary Care Partnerships. They link with community health, local government and a range of other specialist providers to ensure continuity of care for service users (Clarke 2003). Key workers and program managers provide community links with drug and alcohol services, community health and employment, education, housing and homeless services. This type of approach is needed to ensure that the array of service alternatives that is needed to support someone who has been seriously affected by mental illness in the community are in place and working effectively together.

A vital aspect of the psychiatric disability support sector is that key workers work with people with mental illness at all stages of their illness: through periods of illness as well as during the process of developing wellbeing and recovery (Clarke 2003). As such, they are ideally positioned to contribute to continuity of care for people across the course of their illness and to have an important role in preventing relapse.

This sector is recognised in some jurisdictions as a functional component of comprehensive support services that can respond to the complex and diverse needs of people with a psychiatric disability. However, for most jurisdictions the capacity of this sector needs to be substantially increased. Even areas where such services are available, there are often long waiting lists which makes access problematic. Better ways to more fully integrate this sector with clinical and acute services also need to be developed to ensure continuity of care across services and sectors.