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New mental health unit to blend treatment and research

Tim Asimakis reports on a new centre slated to improve mental health care in NSW.

Image: Mark Hillary, via Flickr.
Image: Mark Hillary, via Flickr.
Image: Mark Hillary, via Flickr.

The University of Sydney has partnered with Sydney Local Health District to construct a mental health unit in Camperdown, attached to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. The project, envisioned as a centre for research, teaching, and specialised treatment, is currently under construction on Missenden Road.

The Missenden Mental Health Unit (MMHU), expected to cost $67 million, will be paid for in part by the University, which has committed $10 million to the venture in addition to the entirety of a $25 million government grant that was secured in 2009.

Designed with a capacity for 53 beds, the MMHU will house seven research beds under the auspices of the University’s Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI), with additional access to be provided to the Centre for Eating and Dietary Disorders.

The rest of the hospital will exist to provide in-patient care and mental health services to the Sydney, Leichardt and Marrickville local government areas, which in 2013 were home to more than 60,000 sufferers of mental health issues.

In a statement to Honi, the University stressed the novel aspects of the MMHU, which, it is hoped, will change the nature of mental health care in New South Wales and move patients away from general treatments and into specialised facilities.

Professor Ian Hickie, Executive Director of the BMRI, recognized that the project represents an important shift away from what he described as “previous, generic models of care for 18-65 year olds, where the care you receive in mental health is entirely dependent on who your GPis and where you live.”

“The new Missenden Mental Health Unit will be focused on providing care based on patient needs. We’re adapting the model of care to provide personalised early intervention based on patient age and stage of illness.”

The MMHU’s community influence will be strengthened by linking hospital care to existing mental health programs like Headspace, and by providing regional outreach specialist consultation services to all of NSW.

Students have welcomed the venture, but have also expressed concern over the MMHU’s potential interaction with student services. Fahad Ali, founder of the Mental Health Action Group on campus commented that “Integrating education, research and training in one facility is core to providing high quality care to people who suffer from mental illness.”

Ali went on to question whether the MMHU will provide tangible benefits to students. “We boast some of the most prominent psychiatrists in the country, but we don’t see any of that excellence contribute to improving student mental health through Counselling and Psychological Services and the University Health Service,” he said.

Construction on the MMHU is slated for completion by the end of 2014.