The Victorian government has committed $59.7 million to alleviating the rising pressure on the state’s mental health system so it can better support the community during and following the coronavirus pandemic.
Premier Daniel Andrews and mental health minister Martin Foley on Sunday said the funding would bolster the surge capacity of clinical and community mental health services, and would speed up the implementation of key recommendations from the royal commission into Victoria’s mental health system.
The commission’s interim report called for 135 additional acute inpatient public mental health beds, to be delivered by mid-2022. After talks with health services, the state government has decided to “fast-track” the delivery of 144 new beds at sites in Geelong, Epping, Sunshine and Melbourne to address the rise in demand, according to Foley.
“Coronavirus is hitting everyone hard, but some much harder than others,” he said.
“This package will provide further support for people from all walks of life experiencing anxiety and distress during this unprecedented period of uncertainty and isolation.”
Through the funding, mental health community clinics will up their opening hours to allow for an increased number of in-person sessions and assessments, while mental health services and all 15 of Melbourne’s headspace centres will reach out to more Victorians.
The state-wide rollout of the Hospital Outreach Post-Suicidal Engagement (HOPE) program will be completed with seven new sites at Box Hill, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Monash Clayton, Heidelberg, Broadmeadows, Warrnambool and Mildura, and additional clinical capacity for existing sites in Albury Wodonga and Ballarat.
Ambulance Victoria’s RefCom service will receive more mental health staff to support paramedics and to ensure the correct information is given to frequent callers. Police and paramedics will also receive support through the trauma-related mental health and wellbeing organisation Phoenix Australia.
The state’s Nursing and Midwifery Health Program will also receive $250,000 for mental health counselling and support for nurses, midwives, and personal care workers.
Lisa Fitzpatrick, secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation’s Victorian branch, has encouraged nurses, midwives, students and carers to utilise the service.
“Use it if your workplace is one of the aged care facilities that has had an outbreak, or if you were one of the nurses first on the scene to assist at an outbreak facility,” she said on Sunday.
“These have been extraordinary situations and there’s nothing wrong with asking for support at work. Nurses, midwives and carers don’t have to carry this all on their own, and please don’t wait until you feel totally overwhelmed.”
The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine and the Victorian branch of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists have welcomed the funding.
Last week Beyond Blue chair and former prime minister Julia Gillard noted that during July, 64% of calls and webchats to the Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service came from people in Victoria, up from 43% in June.
“Understandably, we are seeing more people from Victoria seeking support and we want to reassure everyone that we have skilled mental health professionals who are available right now to talk them through these difficult times, no matter their situation,” she said.
“We know that nationally, as the economic and jobs impact of this pandemic unfolds, more Australians will need support for their mental health and wellbeing. We look forward to working with the sector and governments to achieve the sweeping structural reforms this nation needs to meet the diverse needs of the population.”
Contacts about anxiety spiked by 50% and contacts about depression doubled during July, the data has shown. More than half of visits to the COVID-19 support service website during July came from Victoria — the highest volume of traffic from one state or territory since the pandemic began.
Andrews said he wants the community to know they’re not alone.
“We know Victorians are resilient, but we have never faced a crisis quite like this one and I know there are a lot of people out there doing it tough right now,” he said.
“We’ll stand by all Victorians as we get through this – by delivering more beds, more community services and more specialised help for those in need.”
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