Regardless of the setting of mental health care, an interprofessional or multidisciplinary approach is a sound response to the multifaceted problems faced by people with mental health problems. Staff may contribute different expertise. Through collaboration with consumers, the needs of the person experiencing mental health problems can be comprehensively met.
Such extensive engagement of an interprofessional model of care delivery does have some drawbacks. At times, the extent of overlap may result in the blurring of roles. Responsibilities may be uncertain or unclear. Consumers and their carers may find it difficult to identify whom to approach, especially if care is delivered across service organisations. Mental health services have responded with the development of a number of roles based on the function performed rather than the preparation for practice undertaken. Team leaders and case managers are examples of such roles.
An interprofessional workforce involves a range of professions and other staff with different preparatory backgrounds. These are broadening, increasingly, from the traditional professions employed in mental health services – medical, nursing, social work, psychology and occupational therapy – to embrace other workers with skills to contribute. These may be drawn from increasingly diverse educational backgrounds. Some of these groups are subject to regulation through their professional bodies and national regulatory authorities. Other groups working with the mental health workforce are not subject to such authority or regulation. This has supported the development of standards for the mental health workforce in Australia and New Zealand, in order to provide uniform and consistent guidelines to govern everyone working with people experiencing mental health problems.
Historical professional precedents
Until the late 19th century, care for people experiencing mental health problems was usually delivered outside of the medical paradigm. Families, religious and criminal justice systems played significant roles at different times. Today, their roles continue under various guises and to differing extents, and their influence continues to be felt. It is not infrequent that these outdated models are perpetuated in the popular media, particularly in film.
It was late in the 19th century that care for people with mental health problems was assumed by the medical profession. The medical profession was experiencing marked growth in expertise across a range of clinical areas, in part as a result of its adoption of the scientific model. It was hoped that advances in medical science would also apply to the problems of mental health.