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Improving access to high quality mental health services and improving the coordination of care for people experiencing mental health challenges are important goals for NQPHN. 

In 2024, NQPHN will be engaging with the sector to progress a range of exciting initiatives. Some initiatives have a focus on redesigning the current system, so it is easier for people to navigate and access the types of services they need. Other initiatives will focus on commissioning new services. 

Commissioning priorities for 2024 are:

  • Procure and establish stepped care services 
  • Procure and establish Cairns Head to Health
  • Procure and establish universal aftercare Mackay and Townsville
  • Distress Brief Support trial - Tablelands
  • Psychological Support for RACH residents

Commissioning priorities for 2023 were: 

  • Redesigning mental health stepped care services 
  • Codesign Cairns Head to Health 
  • Codesign universal aftercare services Mackay and Townsville
  • Community-based suicide prevention activities 
  • Alcohol and other drugs review  

Across the North Queensland region, NQPHN commissions mental health stepped care services to support people with low, moderate, and high intensity mental health needs. 

NQPHN is responsible for ensuring stepped care arrangements make the best possible use of available services and resources, work effectively across the various levels of need, and address service gaps through commissioning activity.  

Following an independent review of the model and funded services completed in 2022, NQPHN undertook a far-reaching codesign process to design the services and stepped care model that will optimally support people in the region.  

By working with a range of health and social service professionals, people with lived experience of mental health challenges, and other interested community members, NQPHN has been able to design services that will be matched to a person’s needs, rather than their illness or diagnosis.  

A stakeholder summary report has been developed to finalise the codesign process and provide an overview of the vision for the future stepped care model.  


Throughout 2023, NQPHN, in partnership with Townsville and Mackay Hospital and Health Services (HHSs), undertook consultation and codesign activities to inform the implementation of new universal aftercare services. Universal aftercare services are intended to support people who have attempted suicide or been assessed as at imminent risk of attempting suicide. Click on the link below to read the summary report of the consultation and codesign.

Head to Health is a new approach to supporting people with their mental health and social and emotional wellbeing. Head to Health centres provide a welcoming, low stigma, soft entry point for people who are experiencing distress or crisis, including people with mental health concerns that are too complex for many current primary healthcare services but who are not eligible for, or need more timely care than that available from, Queensland Health community mental health services.

Head to Health sites offer immediate support, without the need for a referral or appointment. They also provide short and medium-term episodes of care, and service navigation to connect people to ongoing services. You can find more information about Head to Health here.

Cairns Head to Health

Cairns Head to Health has been funded by the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments through the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement and Bi-Lateral PHN Program. This service is being commissioned by NQPHN in partnership with Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service.

Cairns Head to Health will deliver a new approach to supporting individuals with their mental health, social, and emotional wellbeing needs. As one lived experience representative put it, through ‘wobbly life moments.’ The centre will offer a welcoming, low-stigma, and soft entry point for individuals experiencing distress, crisis, or other mental health challenges. Support will be immediate, with no need for a referral or appointment.

Cairns Head to Health has been through a comprehensive co-design phase between July 2023 and February 2024. A detailed summary of this work can be found here.

A tender process will soon be underway to identify a lead agency for Cairns Head to Health. Organisations interested in this process should register for NQPHN’s eTenderBox portal.

What is Distress Brief Support?

Distress Brief Support (DBS) is a community-based approach to supporting people experiencing distress, combining two kinds of support (outlined below).    

  • Community engagement points: These individuals will be ready to offer immediate compassionate support and will connect those in distress to the short-term support team.
  • Short-term support team: This dedicated team will provide those in distress with person-centred, practical assistance to explore strengths-based solutions and longer-term support options if required.

The Tablelands and Mareeba region is one of six sites across Australia trialling this new approach. Whilst all of the sites will share a common vision, objectives, and principles, each will differ on where and how the approach is implemented, based on local consultation and codesign activities.

DBS Approach

What is distress?

Distress can take a wide variety of forms. Distress can be an unpleasant emotion, feeling, thought, condition, or behaviour.

Emotional distress may include unpleasant feelings, symptoms, or experiences which may result from a particular event, or life circumstances.

Situational distress may be challenging or a mix experience of thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, or behaviours, which may result from life events or situations such as grief, a change in health status, relationship breakdown, financial, or workplace or employment difficulties.

17 June 2024