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Bringing legitimacy to mental health

Professor Philip Morris.

Professor Philip Morris (courtesy of Philip Morris)

Professor Philip Morris has been involved with DVA since the early 1990s, and is now the Principal Psychiatric Adviser to DVA. His role is to provide the Department with advice regarding mental health policy, monitor and advance research and assist the Department in specific cases, as required. While he is primarily involved in the mental health care of older patients, he has an extensive background in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and was the first Director of what is now known as the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health.

Professor Morris feels that a wider range of mental health disorders and substance use problems are now recognised as a consequence of military service and the effects on the families of veterans are now better appreciated.

The development of PTSD programs meant a specialised service was available for veterans locally in state capital cities and regional centres. ‘Education of the veteran community about the program served to reduce the stigma associated with the experience of mental health conditions among veterans,’ he said. He describes this as bringing legitimacy to the war-related mental health problems experienced by veterans and their families, and providing hope that treatment could offer some benefit.

He describes the changes to PTSD programs as being the result of the changing needs of contemporary veterans. Earlier diagnosis means shorter duration of illness and longer potential working lives ahead of them. Programs have become more individual-focused, involve families, and provide flexible outpatient-based treatment, acknowledging the need for services that do not conflict with the veteran’s work and family commitments.

Professor Morris also considers that the programs have enhanced the education and training of doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and other health professionals in the field of PTSD and encouraged research into the recognition and diagnosis of service-related psychiatric conditions and the effectiveness of treatment methods.

Professor Morris believes a strong focus should be placed on the training and facilitation of teamwork between health professionals for the benefit of veteran patients, as effective care often requires the collaboration of the patient’s GP with nursing staff, medical specialists, and allied health practitioners across outpatient and inpatient settings.

‘DVA is enhancing this process by facilitating the communication between health professionals caring for veteran patients and by making guidelines available for clinicians about effective collaboration and teamwork approaches to treatment.

‘I have got to know GPs, psychiatrists, nurses and psychologists in my area who look after veterans, and I have also got to know the hospital and community programs that care for veterans. This is an important first step to working together and building teamwork for the benefit of veteran patients,’ he said.

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