S04: Improving Care for People Experiencing Co-Occurring Mental and Substance Use Conditions

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By September 3, 2019 No Comments

Authors: Erin Madden, Christina Marel, Katherine Mills

Year: 2019

Event: 2019 TheMHS Conference

Subject: Improving Care for People Experiencing Co-Occurring Mental and Substance Use Conditions

Type of resource: Conference Presentations and Papers



Erin is a Research Officer at The Matilda Centre, working on the dissemination and online translation of the National Comorbidity Guidelines. The high prevalence of comorbidity means clinicians are often faced with the need to manage complex psychiatric symptoms that may interfere with their ability to treat patients’ alcohol or other drug (AOD) use. To improve the ability of healthcare workers to respond to people experiencing co-occurring mental and substance use conditions, the Australian Government Department of Health funded the development of evidence-based National Comorbidity Guidelines and accompanying online training program.

577 online training program participants were recruited into the study between November 2017- May 2019 and 117 followed-up immediately post-training. Knowledge, competence and confidence in responding to AOD and mental health conditions were assessed, in addition to whether the training program led to any specific changes in clinical practice or client outcomes.

Preliminary findings indicate that the program has improved participants’ confidence (93.3% agree/strongly agree) and capacity (94.3% agree/strongly agree) to respond to comorbidity. Moreover, 61.1% of healthcare workers reported that client outcomes improved following training completion.

These findings support the potential of e-learning as an effective training method for the AOD workforce. By increasing the capacity of healthcare workers to respond to comorbidity, it is anticipated that the outcomes for people experiencing co-occurring mental health conditions will be improved.

Learning Objectives

Learning Objective 1: The development of the Guidelines has improved our understanding of why mental and substance use disorders co-occur and why this is concerning, as well as current evidence-based management and treatment options for comorbidity. The accompanying Guidelines website and online training program has improved our understanding of e-learning as an innovative and effective dissemination tool within the AOD workforce.

Learning Objective 2: Clinicians are frequently faced with the need to manage complex psychiatric symptoms for AOD clients, with a historical lack of evidence-based resources to support clinicians in managing these conditions. The Guidelines offer this evidence-based guidance and have been distributed to mental health services across Australia, as well as translated into an accessible online training program to bridge the evidence-to-practice gap.


1. Marel C, Mills KL, Kingston R, Gournay K, Deady M, Kay-Lambkin F, Baker A, Teesson M (2016). Guidelines on the management of co-occurring alcohol and other drug and mental health conditions in alcohol and other drug treatment settings (2nd edition). Sydney, Australia: Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales.

2. Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs, National Alcohol and Other Drug Workforce Development Strategy 2015-2018. 2014, Canberra, Australia: Australian Government. Available from: http://www.nationaldrugstrategy.gov.au/internet/drugstrategy/publishing.nsf/Content/C8000B21B6941A46CA257EAC001D266E/$File/National%20Alcohol%20and%20Other%20Drug%20Workforce%20Development%20Strategy%202015-2018.pdf

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