Case study: Designing a philosophy of care for mental health in SA

What does mental health care informed by lived experience look like?

In 2020, we partnered with the SA Lived Experience Leadership and Advocacy Network (LELAN) to find out.

Together, we co-created a Philosophy of Care to inform the new Urgent Mental Health Care Centre (UMHCC) in Adelaide. 

We started with conversations to create authentic solutions

The Urgent Mental Health Care Centre (UMHCC) was a promise made in the SA Mental Health Services Plan 2020-2025. The Office of the Chief Psychiatrist (OCP) invited the SA Lived Experience Leadership and Advocacy Network (LELAN) and TACSI to co-design conversations with lived experience representatives in March 2020. 

Together, we co-created a Philosophy of Care: a foundational model to guide every element of the centre’s design and existence.

Starting with co-creation is in itself symbolic of sharing power

Co-creating the foundations WITH people from community rather than being asked to provide feedback on something that has already been created (and often behind closed doors) means that the Philosophy of Care is the product of vulnerable, honest and powerful conversations, where participants shared stories of past harms and desires for better support options. It would not be possible without these contributors and we remain grateful to them.

“The beauty of co-creating the Philosophy of Care was that people with lived experience got to shape what the care experience should be from the start. This is a new and necessary initiative that helps us provide support to people that meet their needs and preferences. It was also an important milestone in that an organisation with lived experience expertise (LELAN) was commissioned to work in partnership with an organisation with expertise in social innovation (TACSI). Combined, they offer a powerhouse of possibility for future service design, implementation and review that the mental health sector needs and that people with lived experience deserve.”

Ellie Hodges, Executive Director, LELAN

Creating the foundations for a Philosophy of Care

In early 2020, LELAN and TACSI designed a relational online experience to engage over 30 people from SA in authentic conversation. These contributors had lived experience of mental health distress, emergency department admissions, or being family and carers of those seeking help.

A Philosophy of Care is a theory or attitude that acts as guiding principles for values and behaviour. It’s intended to underpin every aspect of the Centre, and provide staff with a reference point when making decisions, keeping them accountable and invested.

The conversations provided an opportunity to co-design an approach to care that people truly want and need in times of crisis. The Philosophy is underpinned by a belief in flexible, community-based care that provides a safe and inclusive model of support. 

TACSI later partnered with NEAMI, the service provider commissioned to deliver the service, to ensure the priority of cultural safety and wisdom. A yarning series was led by TACSI’s Aunty Vickey Charles with local Aboriginal people to understand what welcoming and inclusive care looks like for all people.

The conversations led to powerful insights

  • People want a relational experience when experiencing crisis or distress

  • People want services to be an extension of the community

  • A Philosophy of Care means that services can provide what really matters to people

  • Having foundational values guides services to stay accountable to this community-based approach

  • People want compassionate and humane responses

“Working in partnership with LELAN was so incredibly valuable. By putting lived experience leadership and social innovation rigour together community members created a powerful tool that speaks to what matters most.”

Carla Clarence, Principal Social Innovator: Social Health, TACSI

Launching a new way forward in mental health

When the Minister for Health opened Adelaide’s new Urgent Mental Health Care Centre in March 2021, he pointed out two uncommon features: no security guards, and a 50% workforce of people with a lived-experience of mental distress. These are both essential  recommendations that arose from the co-design process.

The UMHCC offers high-engagement support in a calm, welcoming, “lounge-room” space. This combination of peer-workforce members and clinical support provides evidence-based, caring, safe and inclusive mental health support.


The impact of the Philosophy of Care one year on

In February 2022, we had the pleasure of speaking with Rebecca Ljubic, the UMHCC service manager about how the Philosophy of Care is still guiding the service experience in real life. Rebecca said that the Philosophy of Care is the overarching ethos of the centre and underpins all of their decision making. “It reminds us of the outcomes we need to be striving for, guides our values-based recruitment of centre staff, and ultimately keeps us accountable,” she said. 

Interested in learning more about how mental health care can (and should) be informed by lived experience?

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