Immediate mental health services deployed into fire affected communities

Media release
12 Jan 2020
Prime Minister, Assistant Minister for Health, Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme

More mental health support services will be immediately provided to firefighters, emergency personnel, individuals and communities impacted by the ongoing bushfire disaster.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said an initial $76 million would fund free counselling sessions, extra Medicare and tele-health consultations, an expansion of headspace services for young Australians, and community recovery initiatives.

“These bushfires have been unprecedented in their scale, coverage and duration. They have caused tragic loss of life and physical damage, that have scarred our landscape.  But as I have witnessed in connecting with people on the ground in fire affected communities, they have also taken a traumatic emotional toll on our people.  We need to ensure the trauma and mental health needs of our people are supported in a way like we never have before ,” the Prime Minister said.

“Working together, we will continue to do whatever is needed to support those Australians affected and traumatised by these terrible bushfires by rebuilding communities and helping people in need to recover.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the funding was part of the Government’s comprehensive response to the bushfire crisis. 

“I urge people to reach out, get the support they need and check in on loved ones,” Minister Hunt said.

“Our Government’s response will help assist with distress counselling and mental health support for individuals, families and communities, including frontline personnel, impacted by the ongoing bush fire emergency.” 

Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert said Services Australia would put its shoulder to the wheel to help deliver this new level of support to Australians who need it. 

“If you’re in a bushfire affected area I urge you to call 180 22 66­­­. Staff are working extended hours and will continue to do so as long as necessary,” Minister Robert said.

Immediate distress and trauma support

$10.5 million will be provided to make up to 10 free counselling sessions immediately available for individuals, including emergency services personnel, who have been affected by the bushfires. 

The sessions - offered at recovery centres, Service Australia centres, and existing local mental health centres in fire affected regions - will provide short-term distress support, social support, counselling and family based psychological interventions to help people through the immediate trauma and crisis.

A further $3.2 million investment will help deploy bushfire mental health response coordinators to fire affected areas.

Enhanced services through Medicare and Telehealth

To deliver longer-term support to those affected, $29.6 million will be provided for additional Medicare-supported psychological treatment sessions and expanded access to mental health care via telehealth.

Anyone who has been impacted by bushfires will be eligible to receive Medicare rebates for up to 10 psychological therapy sessions provided by GPs, psychologists, and other eligible mental health professionals.

These 10 sessions will be in addition to the 10 psychological therapy sessions currently available under Medicare.

To make it as simple and fast as possible to access the new items, individuals do not need to have a GP referral or mental health treatment plan, but can seek appointments directly with any eligible mental health professional.

In addition, the Better Access via Telehealth Initiative will be expanded, which will allow people in rural and remote areas affected by bushfires to receive Medicare rebated counselling and psychological support through video telehealth services. This will also allow eligible GPs to deliver mental health and wellbeing support via telehealth.

The new Bushfire Recovery and telehealth Medicare items will apply to all Australians, including children, young people, adults, seniors, and frontline emergency personnel who were residents of, working in, or visiting a bushfire affected region.

The items will be available at the end of this week, be in place for the next two years and will ensure that people impacted by the fires are able to receive more intensive services, particularly over the next three to six months when trauma is more likely to manifest. Individuals are also encouraged to use existing tele-psychiatry services where needed. 

Child and youth mental health 

We recognise that young Australians may be particularly vulnerable and to assist with managing any increased demand for headspace services, headspace sites significantly impacted by fire will also each be provided with up to an additional $300,000 to ensure that young people can get support when they need it.

Given the particularly devastating impact of the bushfires on the New South Wales South Coast, the Government will also expand the planned Bateman’s Bay headspace site and expedite funding of $4.4 million over five years to ensure the centre is up and running by the end of the year.

Support for Emergency Service Personnel

Emergency services workers and their families often face the most confronting situations. To ensure they have extensive and ongoing support, we will provide $16 million for specialist organisations to provide them with trauma care services.

This funding will ensure that workers and their families are receiving more intensive support that might be necessary to prevent and treat the effects of trauma, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), both now and after the immediate fire threat has passed. 

We will also provide $1 million for training for front line emergency service personnel in trauma-informed care and psychological first aid. This includes training for doctors, pharmacists, and health professionals who are often the first people that communities turn to for support. 

An additional $1 million will also be provided for training of staff in organisations that manage front line emergency personnel, in order to help them identify and assist emergency personnel who may be at risk. 

Community recovery and coordination

The Government recognises that communities will need support to recover and rebuild, and that they often know what is best to support their wellbeing. To assist them, we will be providing $6.9 million for community wellbeing grants and further funding for locally tailored mental health services through Primary Health Networks (PHNs).

These grants will help communities organise wellbeing and recovery activities. Communities will be able to apply for these grants through their local PHNs, which will also receive funding to facilitate these activities and deliver additional mental health resources specific to the needs of each local community.

This comprehensive response, developed in consultation with key experts, acknowledges and supports individuals, families, frontline personnel, and communities during different stages of recovery. It reinforces our Government’s strong commitment to better mental health for all Australians and will complement the existing investment of $5.2 billion in mental health and suicide prevention services this financial year.

 

Contacts for support

Immediate distress and trauma support - Individuals can contact Services Australia on 180 22 66 [CN1] or their local Primary Health Network (PHN) (found at www.health.gov.au/phn) to locate and access these sessions.

In addition, anyone experiencing distress as a result of these events can seek immediate advice and support through Lifeline (13 11 14), Beyond Blue (1300 224 636), the Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), or the Government’s digital mental health portal, Head to Health (www.headtohealth.gov.au).

Mental Health Support through Medicare - Individuals should contact their GP or eligible mental health professional to access these services. GP’s or other health professionals seeking advice should visit www.humanservices.gov.au or call 132 150.

headspace - Local headspace services can be found at: https://headspace.org.au/headspace-centres/. For young people unable to attend a headspace centre, eheadspace is available online at www.headspace.org.au or via telephone at 1800 650 890.

 

Supporting the Mental Health of Australians Affected by Bushfires (Summary)

1.

Services: Bushfire Recovery Access Program

Cost

 

Front line emergency distress and trauma counselling will be available immediately, with up to 10 free mental health support sessions for individuals, families and emergency services personnel

$10.5 million

 

 

 

Bushfire affected individuals and families, and emergency response personnel will also be eligible to receive Medicare rebates for up to 10 psychological therapy sessions. Those affected by fires will not need a mental health plan from a GP or a diagnosed mental illness to obtain these services.

Psychological therapy sessions via telehealth will be available to people in fire affected rural areas that don’t have easy access to mental health professionals. These sessions will also be Medicare funded.

$29.6 million

 

Funding of upto $300,000 each for headspace centres 

serving areas significantly impacted by fire (Bairnsdale, Albury/ Wodonga and Wangaratta, Bega, Queanbeyan, Nowra, Lithgow, Penrith, Gosford, Victor Harbour, with outreach to Kangaroo Island, Mount Barker). The Government will also expand the planned Bateman’s Bay headspace site and expedite funding.

$7.4 million

2. Delivery: trauma informed care on the frontlines

 

 

Training in trauma informed care and psychological first aid will be provided to frontline emergency staff, including doctors, pharmacists and health professionals, as well as to organisations managing frontline emergency staff to identify personnel at risk.

$2.0 million

 

 

 

Specialist organisations will provide trauma care services, including for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to emergency service workers and their immediate families. There will be a pilot program to provide a support and mental health literacy network for emergency services workers and their families/kinship groups.

$16.0 million

3.               Coordination

 

 

Bushfire mental health response coordinators will be deployed to PHNs in fire affected areas. These coordinators will ensure that all state and federal services are working together effectively so that any individuals and families in crisis will receive rapid and high quality care.

$3.2 million

 

 

The Commonwealth and state and territory governments will work together to develop a cross-jurisdictional mental health framework for responding to national disasters.

$500,000

4.               Recovery: Supporting communities in recovery

 

 

Expansion of mental health services in fire affected PHNs regions (as per drought response package). This delivers solutions to match any specific needs of local communities.

$4.2 million

 

 

Small community grants round to fund activities at grass-roots level to help mental health and healing activities post bushfires. Community connectedness and recovery grants of up to $10,000 will be available to fund grass-roots level activities to help mental health and healing activities after the bushfires.

These activities will promote peer support, with local residents helping each other and reaching out to others to identify those who are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or depression, and prevent suicides.

$2.7 million