A successful Illawarra-based strategy to treat personality disorders will be rolled out statewide thanks to a $1.8 million state government grant.
On Tuesday, NSW Mental Health Minister Jai Rowell announced funding to expand the pioneering Project Air program which has been developed by researchers at the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) based at the University of Wollongong.
Project director Professor Brin Grenyer said the grant would be used to help other local health districts across the state to better diagnose, manage and treat people with these disorders.
"Around 6.5 per cent of the population have a personality disorder, although there's a high proportion that go undiagnosed," he said.
"The two we see most frequently are borderline personality disorder, which often presents itself as people self-harming and being suicidal; and antisocial personality disorder which often shows up in the justice system.
"Also showing up more and more is narcissistic personality disorder where people have the need to feel powerful and grandiose, which is being fuelled in part by the rise in social media."
Prof Grenyer said a three-year pilot program had been run throughout the Illawarra Shoalhaven and South Eastern Sydney local health districts.
It included training for hospital staff, workshops for family and carers and public awareness events and campaigns.
"One of the issues in the treatment of personality disorders is that psychological-based treatment is the evidence-based treatment, not hospitalisation and drug therapy," Prof Grenyer said.
"Over the course of the pilot we managed to get a significant shift in the confidence of staff to treat this patient group, and we did achieve a move away from inpatient hospital stays and emergency department visits to more psychological treatment in the community.
"We also started to raise awareness about disorders like borderline personality disorder which were often considered to be untreatable in the past."
Prof Grenyer said the $1.8 million government investment - $600,000 of which will be delivered this financial year - would see the project expanded to other local health districts starting with northern Sydney.
"This will allow us to work directly with emergency departments and people who work in acute health across the state, and this is vital because around one in six people who go to EDs go there because of personality disorders," he said.
"It will also fund the set-up of dedicated rapid-response psychological clinics for people in crisis, such as those now attached to Wollongong, Nowra, Sutherland and St George hospitals."