The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
BM contributed to the project conceptualisation and design, collected and analysed data, and participated in drafting the manuscript. SF contributed to the project conceptualisation and design, analysed data, and participated in drafting the manuscript. TF assisted with data collection and participated in drafting the manuscript. MH contributed to the project conceptualisation and design, and participated in drafting the manuscript. All authors contributed to and have approved the final version of the manuscript.
Suboptimal use of mental health services persists for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples1. Coupled with poorer life expectancy than other Australians, barriers to care have included poorly established partnership and communication among mental health services and Aboriginal peoples, and cultural insensitivity. As such, a goal of the Aboriginal mental health workforce is to engage their people and improve the social and emotional well-being of Aboriginal peoples. In 2013, the Northern Area Mental Health Service piloted a 0.8 full time equivalent position of an Aboriginal Mental Health Liaison Officer in an urban setting. Therefore, aims of this study were to describe the development of the role and stakeholder perceptions on how the role impacts on the typical journey of Aboriginal consumers engaging with mental health services. Meeting the aims may provide an exemplar for other mental health services.
An illustrative case study using quantitative and qualitative data collection was undertaken. Descriptive statistics were computed to profile consumers and referral pathways. Thematic analysis was used to profile key stakeholder perceptions of the role.
The Aboriginal Mental Health Liaison Officer received 37 referrals over a 9 month period. The major source of referral was from an emergency department (49 %). Seventy-three percent of referrals by the Aboriginal mental health liaison officer at discharge were to community mental health teams. Thematic analysis of data on the development of the role resulted in two themes themes; (1) realisation of the need to improve accessibility and (2) advocating for change. The description of the role resulted in four themes; (1) the initiator: initiating access to the service, (2) the translator: brokering understanding among consumers and clinicians, (3) the networker: discharging to the community, and (4) the facilitator: providing cyclic continuity of care.
The liaison component of the role was only a part of the multiple tasks the urban Aboriginal Mental Health Liaison Officer fulfils. As such, the role was positively described as influencing the lives of Aboriginal consumers and their families and improving engagement with health professionals in the mental health service in question.