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Identifying legal need in mental health settings

Health Justice Australia has been working with Neami National to explore their needs and opportunities for health justice partnership. Neami is a community-based organisation providing services around Australia to improve mental health and wellbeing in local communities. Neami’s employees include peer support workers, clinical staff, and a range of other support worker roles who support consumers with a broad range of issues that can impact upon mental health. Within Neami’s network are Head to Health services, services providing urgent mental health care, mental health, homelessness, suicide prevention support and throughcare for people exiting the justice system.

Setting the groundwork

The work between Health Justice Australia and Neami has two streams. The first is to set the groundwork for partnerships in three Neami sites, with Neami seeking to reach out to local legal services.

This groundwork involves an in-depth analysis of the legal needs likely to arise for consumers of each service and challenges they face in accessing legal assistance. It also explores current relationships between the Neami staff on site and local legal service providers, together with new opportunities to connect with the legal help required.

“Neami understands the huge impact unmet legal needs can have on people’s mental health, sense of wellbeing, and safety. We need to think more creatively about how we partner to have these needs addressed and see health justice partnerships as a valuable opportunity to do this.”

Legal needs assessments have been completed in two of the three sites. Following these assessments, Health Justice Australia is working with Neami to broker partnerships with potential legal partners, thinking broadly about what may work best in each service. While in one location this may be a lawyer embedded in a healthcare setting or team, in another the partnership(s) could focus on shared advocacy with other services about issues of mutual concern (e.g. access to housing). There could be elements of both in a single partnership. We look forward to sharing more about this work as it progresses.

Partners in research

The second stream of work is a research collaboration between the Health Justice Australia and the Neami research team to explore how health justice partnership may complement and support the work of Neami staff and services on the ground.

Together we are exploring:

  • the potential for health justice partnership in different settings: in terms of legal issues arising and the existing capability of Neami staff (strengths and challenges) to identify and respond to legal issues affecting consumer health
  • whether health justice partnership makes a difference to that capability.

The research project has commenced with a ‘baseline’ (pre-HJP) survey of more than 1,100 staff in Neami service sites across Australia. Staff were asked about:

  • the types of legal issues that their consumers experience
  • what they do to assist with these issues
  • whether they feel they ‘have enough’ connections, skills, knowledge, confidence, remit and resources to address those issues when they arise
  • referral relationships with legal services
  • their views of lawyers, legal help and the legal system.

The survey received 146 responses (13%) from 70 services around the country, from peer support workers, support workers, managers and team leaders, and clinical staff. With analysis underway, we’ll soon be publishing some high-level preliminary results.

Related content

A guide to developing and implementing a health justice partnership that responds to local conditions and needs.