Half of Community Mental Health Workforce is Casual or Temporary: MHCC Workforce Report

Nearly one-quarter of people who work in mental health in NSW are employed through charities and other community-managed organisations, according to the first comprehensive state-wide study of the community mental health sector’s workforce.

The report, by the Mental Health Coordinating Council (MHCC), found community managed mental health organisations in NSW employ approximately 4745 paid staff, which is a full-time equivalent of 3,464 positions –  higher than previous estimates – in addition to 4160 volunteers. More than two-thirds are women, and almost half are employed on a temporary contract or casual basis.

Carmel Tebbutt, the CEO of MHCC, said the 2019 data illustrated the critical role of the community sector in supporting people with mental health issues. “There is growing understanding that people who experience mental health challenges do best when they can seek support with housing, education and employment, relationships and other issues that help them keep their lives on track during difficult times,” Ms Tebbutt said.

“The community organisations represented in this survey provide diverse support services that complement other specialist mental health care and primary health care providers, particularly for people who live with severe and persistent conditions. The data shows how important this sector is in meeting mental health needs across NSW. Now we would like to see governments integrate community-managed mental health more deeply into their service and workforce planning at both the state and national levels.”

Ms Tebbutt said the high level of insecure employment was concerning, as NSW and national mental health reform strategies as well as the National Disability Insurance Scheme centred on increasing access to psychosocial supports for people with ongoing mental health conditions, driving demand for a capable, qualified and stable workforce. Most of the surveyed organisations believed these factors would increase demand for workers – especially those with higher skill levels.

“The Productivity Commission has called in its recent draft report into mental health for governments to enter into five-year contracts with the community sector to provide these critical services, rather than the one to two years which are currently the norm,” Ms Tebbutt said. “I support this recommendation, which would allow our member organisations to make longer term commitments to their staff – not just in their employment contracts but also by being able to invest more strategically in their development and education.”

The survey, which MHCC hopes to repeat regularly, also revealed just over one-third of the workforce is degree qualified, while nearly half of workers hold a further education certificate.

In other findings:

  • The largest workforce category is mental health support workers (62.8%) and there are also significant numbers of allied health workers (11.6%), and peer workers who have their own lived experience of mental health issues. (11.3%). Psychiatrists and other medical practitioner are 1.4% of the community-managed mental health workforce.
  • Nearly two-thirds of workers are aged under 45 years.
  • More than half the workforce (54%) is employed on a part time basis.
  • More than 80% of mental health support workers are employed by one of nine large community-managed organisations, though there are also many small-scale organisations.
  • More than half of the organisations have volunteer staff members.
  • 28% of workers had a lived experience of mental illness.

Find the full report here