Ruth Vine has been named Australia’s first deputy chief medical officer for mental health.
Health minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday told ABC News Breakfast the appointment was part of a “permanent change” to the way the government addresses mental health, and had been strongly supported by chief medical officer Brendan Murphy.
“We do know whenever there is an economic downturn there is strong evidence that mental health challenges rise,” he said.
“As part of that, we’re preparing now on two fronts: one is to particularly focus on the mental health concerns during and potentially flowing from the pandemic. And they could be anxiety about health, anxiety or depression relating to the lockdowns, but they’re progressively lifting, and also economic anxiety which is what is so important to get people back to work.”
Vine previously worked at the Victorian Department of Health as director of mental health, and as the state’s chief psychiatrist.
National Mental Health Commission head Christine Morgan last month said she had been working with state and territory mental health ministers to develop a plan to tackle mental health issues.
A National Mental Health Pandemic Response Plan will be discussed at national cabinet’s next meeting on Friday, as well as Vine’s new role.
Morgan and Murphy have reportedly been pushing for the mental health position to be created as part of the government’s coronavirus response, amid fears of worsening mental health for many Australians as the social and economic impacts of the pandemic set in.
Beyond Blue has seen a 40% increase in people contacting it compared to the same time last year, according to Morgan. Similarly, Lifeline answered almost 90,000 calls in March — an increase of 25% compared to last year.
Last week former prime minister and Beyond Blue chair Julia Gillard noted that there has been a drop in the number of mental health services being accessed during the pandemic, suggesting that many Australians have not been getting the support they need.
She called on the government to consider modernising the mental health system in response to issues raised by the coronavirus, and urged national cabinet to “seize the opportunity presented to flatten the curve of mental ill health and create a better system for the future”.
Read more: What is COVID-19 doing to our mental health?