By Mikayla van Loon
Improving mental health support and programs in the outer east has been a priority for some time but after experiencing a global pandemic and witnessing the strain on services, a group of councils is urging the Federal government to act now.
The Eastern Region Group (ERG) of Councils, comprising Knox, Maroondah, Yarra Ranges, Manningham, Whitehorse and Monash, is calling for the expansion of headspace services in the east.
ERG chair and Maroondah councillor Kylie Spears said more so than ever, mental health services are overworked, hard to navigate and difficult to access.
“Access to mental health services in the eastern region continues to be an extremely important issue that desperately needs to be resolved,” she said.
“We are at a critical point in time as we navigate the pressures of the pandemic, on the back of bushfires and recent storm damage that has impacted so many in our region.”
At least 25 per cent of young people have some form of mental illness, exacerbating their inability to complete school, find employment or go down the path of self-harm and suicide.
According to ERG’s research, the Yarra Ranges has one of the worst rates for mental health in the state and family violence rates in the outer east are among the highest in Victoria.
But accessing services close to home has become a challenge, particularly as waitlists grow across the east and a lack of public transport prevents people from accessing the services they need.
The Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network (EMPHN) oversees headspace services in the east and said the demand in the Lilydale area is quite significant.
“The average wait time from referral to intake appointment for young people is around six days but it can be a few months before they get ongoing counselling, which can range from a single session up to 20 sessions, depending on need,” an EMPHN spokesperson said.
In some cases, headspace has introduced single session therapy for young people when it is clinically appropriate, to help address the increasing need for mental health support.
“Eastern region councils are asking for immediate Federal Government investment to expand outreach from headspace services across the region and reduce the backlog in demand, particularly Monash, Knox and Lilydale,” Cr Spears said.
“We are also calling for an additional headspace service in Manningham so those residents can have access to much needed mental health services.”
Lilydale’s headspace is also now home to the Lilydale Youth Hub, operated by Inspiro Community Health Service.
Working together, the hub offers housing assistance, legal advice and education services as well as counselling, alongside headspace’s services of helping young people access a GP or mental health professional, physical and sexual health appointments, alcohol and drug assistance and work or study help.
EMPHN said there are number of things in place to help reduce wait times including funding for tertiary service mental health providers to be seconded to headspace to help young people with high needs.
The ERG councils also want to see a ‘single door’ system established to help improve the navigation of services but it will require specific planning and coordination.
“It’s important to strike a balance between meeting immediate mental health needs alongside early intervention or even prevention,” Cr Spears said.
“We need to improve planning and coordination to help make the system easier to access, both in terms of physical location and availability of appointments, to reduce delays for people who are in need of support right now while we work to support community health, wellbeing and resilience.”