Mental health services idea for Victorian schools queried

By Tom Ravlic

Thursday September 9, 2021

Matthew Guy
Matthew Guy, the new leader of the Liberal Party in Victoria, has flagged he would like to see young people getting greater access to mental health professionals in schools. (AAP Image/James Ross)

Mental Health Victoria has warned that the Victorian opposition leader’s idea to expand mental health services in schools can only be achieved if workforce shortages were overcome.

Matthew Guy, the new leader of the Liberal Party in Victoria, has flagged he would like to see young people getting greater access to mental health professionals in schools.

This call for an increase in the provision of mental health assistance to young people comes as school aged and secondary school children continue to study online in lockdown with limited opportunities to interact with their friends and peers.

Angus Clelland, the chief executive officer of Mental Health Victoria, said his organisation supported the concept in principle but there are obstacles to achieving complete coverage of schools because of a lack of skilled professionals.

“The major hurdle for the expansion of any state program is the shortage of mental health workers.  There are not enough mental health nurses, psychologists, occupational therapists, social workers and other professionals to go around,” Clelland observed.

“This is a national problem that cannot be solved by Victoria alone. National action is required so that major reforms, such as those recommended by the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, can be successfully implemented.’

Clelland said that there is already work underway to try to help young people and Mental Health Victoria is talking with relevant authorities to ensure this takes place.

“We have been in deep discussion with the Department of Health on this emerging crisis  and believe that one of the most practical ways to provide support to children and families in the short term is to mobilise Victoria’s large network of community health and mental health organisations, in partnership with local government”.

Calls for greater access for young people to mental health assistance emerge on the same day that the Royal Women’s Hospital launches a mental health program aimed at helping indigenous mothers-to-be.

The program has been designed with the involvement of women’s psychiatrists, specialist midwives and the Aboriginal Liaison team and can be delivered online and in person.

Dr Kristine Mercuri, a psychiatrist working at the Royal Women’s Hospital, said the program has a trauma-informed approach and the goal is to support indigenous women who are more likely to experience mental health problems and poorer perinatal outcomes.

“While specific research into the impacts of attachment trauma on Aboriginal people is still in its infancy, we know that trauma has to be a key consideration of healthcare for Aboriginal women — particularly as they bring new life into the world,” Mercuri said.

“Having a baby can be challenging and pregnancy in itself can be a trigger for those women who have themselves experienced attachment trauma, where bonding with a parent has been disrupted. And this may impact the way they bond with their baby.

“We’ll work with groups of up to 20 women at a time to build skills in grounding and stabilisation of mental state in preparation for a new baby. They’ll be able to build therapeutic alliances with other women, common in many antenatal group sessions. We think this will give women in the program a great start to motherhood.”


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