Rapid funding for mental health services to lift NSW in lockdown

By Melissa Coade

Tuesday September 7, 2021

People living in NSW will be able to talk to a mental health professional and be referred to the most appropriate care for their needs. 
People living in NSW will be able to talk to a mental health professional and be referred to the most appropriate care for their needs.  (Drobot Dean/Adobe)

Mental health concerns for the millions of Australia’s population living in lockdown due to public health orders to limit the transmission of COVID-19 has led the federal government to give more money to bolster support services, starting with New South Wales.

By calling 1800 595 212, people living in NSW will be able to talk to a mental health professional and be given a free triage service that will refer them to the most appropriate care for their needs. 

Modelled on the ‘Head to Health’ pop-up clinic model of clinics established in Victoria during last year’s extended lock down in that state, ten new clinics will open across Sydney and in the Central Coast and Illawarra to deliver video and phone supported mental health and assessment services. Face-to-face COVIDsafe treatment will also be available from the clinic where recommended. 

The pop-up clinics were announced on Monday in a joint statement from health minister Greg Hunt and assistant minister to the pm for mental health and suicide prevention David Coleman.

Hunt said the government understood the mental health toll that current restrictions were having on Australians subject to stay-at-home orders. For young people in particular, he said the stress was known to be acute, and he hoped the clinics could offer senior high school students studying for their Higher School Certificate (HSC) additional support. HSC exams have been pushed back one month as a result of the outbreak in NSW.

“We know people, particularly our young, are doing it really tough and the current outbreak is putting incredible stress and mental health pressure on many Australians,” Hunt said.

“That is why we are prioritising mental health support and increase the availability of mental health services in some of those harder hit areas.”

Clinics will offer free support to people living under some of the harshest COVID-19 lockdown conditions in NSW will be established in the first step to rolling out a national network. A $10.6 million federal investment has been committed to rapidly establish pop-up clinics in Lakemba, Hurstville, Tuggerah, Kingswood, Thornleigh, Shellharbour, Blacktown, Parramatta, Bankstown and Liverpool. 

Within each clinic will be psychologists, mental health nurses, mental health occupational therapists, social workers and peer workers. Their support work will be reinforced by the state-wide intake and assessment phone service in NSW, which will be a single entry point manned by clinicians for people wanting to access mental health services in the state.

Coleman said the extra funding was essential with the loss of freedom that accompanied critical but challenging lockdown conditions for Australian citizens. 

“These pop up clinics, established in record time, will be readily accessible and free and I am confident they will make a real difference for people impacted by the pandemic,” Coleman said. 

Victoria’s Head to Health program assisted over 11,000 last year and resulted in more than 5,000 referrals for people who called through to the hotline. 

Initially, the clinics in NSW will operate from existing primary care of community settings and will be on offer until the end of June 2022.

Australians seeking support during the COVID-19 pandemic can also call the Beyond Blue Coronavirus Wellbeing Support Service on 1800 512 348.

Anyone experiencing distress can seek immediate advice and support through Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), or the Government’s digital mental health gateway, Head to Health.

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