New mental health clinics to support Victorians during the COVID-19 pandemic

Media release
17 Aug 2020
Prime Minister, Minister for Health

The Australian Government will provide an additional $31.9 million to create 15 mental health clinics across Victoria and further enhance essential support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Australian Government recognises the ongoing Victorian restrictions needed to stop the spread of the virus are having a significant impact on the mental health of individuals and communities in Victoria.

$26.9 million of the new funding will establish 15 dedicated mental health clinics across Victoria, with nine clinics in Greater Melbourne and six in regional Victoria.

The clinics will be located at existing GP clinics, headspace centres or other community sites where people usually access general health care. A list of these locations will be announced within the coming weeks.

The clinics will support GPs by providing access to multidisciplinary teams of mental health workers, including psychologists, mental health nurses, social workers, and alcohol and drug workers.

The clinics will provide on-site mental health support, but may also arrange referrals to more intensive mental health care or social supports if needed. This could include referral into emergency care or into an in-patient facility in a private hospital.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there had been a concerning rise in self-harm injuries presenting to hospital, and a spike in the use of services like Beyond Blue, Lifeline and Kids Helpline.

Data shows there has been a 33 per cent rise in children and young people in Victoria presenting to hospital with self-harm injuries over the past six weeks, compared to a year earlier. In the past 4 weeks, Victorian use was 90 per cent higher than the rest of the country for Beyond Blue, 22 per cent higher for Lifeline and five per cent higher for Kids Helpline.

Victorian demand for Medicare Benefit Schedule mental health services is also up six per cent on this time last year.

“While we’re fighting the spread of this virus in Victoria we also need to guard against the devastating mental health impacts it is having,” the Prime Minister said.

“That’s why I asked Dr Ruth Vine as our Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, and our Mental Health Commissioner Christine Morgan, to look at what else we could do to support the mental health of Victorians in the face of the latest outbreak and the effect it is having.

“This package is about helping people access mental health support as early as possible and as conveniently as possible.

“To assist co-ordination on the ground in Victoria, Premier Andrews and I have agreed to establish a new Victorian Mental Health Taskforce to ensure the latest initiatives are implemented quickly.

“Our investment in these new mental health clinics and targeted digital and phone services builds on the more than $500 million we’ve invested since the start of this year in mental health services and support, including 10 extra Medicare-subsidised psychology therapy sessions, dedicated phone services and the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Plan.”

Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said: “The clinics will play a key role in supporting our emergency departments, hospitals and GPs by providing accessible mental health care.”

Dr Ruth Vine, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, said: “It means when you feel you need to see someone quickly about your mental health, you don’t have to go straight to the emergency department. There will be places in your community you can go. There will be trained professionals ready to help you.”

The 15 clinics will also enable Commonwealth funded Primary Health Networks (PHNs) in Victoria to provide mental health support to older Victorians and those in the aged care system. Residents, their families and carers, will be able to access mental health workers, including psychologists, at these clinics either in person, or via telephone or digital services where needed. This is in addition to the $82.5 million the Australian Government has provided through PHNs for in-reach psychological services in residential aged care facilities.

The Government has already committed $19 million nationally in 2020-21 for PHNs to commission additional mental health nursing services or equivalent support for older people who are experiencing social isolation or loneliness as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government also provided $10 million nationally over two years from 2019-20 to expand the Community Visitors Scheme to further support older Australians to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, with telephone and digital contact provided where physical visits are not possible.

The dedicated mental health clinics will also provide a place to go for those with family and friends in the aged care system who are worried about their loved ones and require mental health support.

The PHNs based in Victoria will be tasked with the establishment of the new clinics, and will work closely with key GP clinics, the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHO) and designated headspace centres. The clinics will be funded for 12 months.

In addition to the clinics, $5 million in funding will be provided to enhance digital and phone services for specific groups that are experiencing significant challenges during the additional restrictions. This includes those living with an eating disorder where physical isolation at home can greatly exacerbate their mental illness. The funding will ensure services such as the Eating Disorders National Support line, 1800 ED HOPE, have the capacity to provide the specialist support needed. An additional $2 million will help evaluate the impact of this investment and target any emerging mental health needs.

Christine Morgan, CEO of the National Mental Health Commission said: “While the Government has substantially increased funding for national phone lines and online services to meet increased demand during the pandemic, we know that some groups within our population require more specialised online support. This initiative will provide that vital additional care.”

These new measures recognise that many people in areas impacted by the second wave of the pandemic will be facing escalating mental health challenges. They build on the recent additional mental health support provided – including 10 additional Medicare subsidised psychological therapy sessions for people subject to further restrictions; $12 million to bolster mental health support lines and headspace outreach; and the more than $500 million additional funding for mental health and suicide prevention announced since January, including Medicare subsidies for telehealth consultations.

Our Government has responded early and rapidly to address the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. We continue to demonstrate our firm commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians, with estimated expenditure for mental health services and suicide prevention to be more than $5.2 billion in 2019-20.