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Taking mental health action among ‘highest priorities’ for government

Mental health funding: “The funding will be used to recruit and train additional outreach workers who will connect with young people in the community under supervision of the experienced Headspace staff.”

MENTAL Health is topping the nation’s political agenda, with the Prime Minister promising greater resources for suicide prevention, and Australia agreeing to a new blueprint that recognises faith leaders and communities as necessary in delivering mental health crisis care.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ranked suicide prevention as “one of my government’s highest priorities” during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has earmarked extra funding for mental health services.

Addressing the growing stresses of lockdowns and restrictions, Mr Morrison committed $5 million to youth service Headspace, $2 million to Kids Helpline, $2.5 million to Lifeline and $2.5 million to Beyond Blue.

He said Headspace should be accessed by young people in distress.

“This will particularly focus on Year 11 and Year 12 students, young people who have lost their jobs, and tertiary students,” Mr Morrison said on August 6.

“The funding will be used to recruit and train additional outreach workers who will connect with young people in the community under supervision of the experienced Headspace staff.”

For Victorians now under Australia’s toughest lockdown, an extra 10 psychological therapy sessions will be allowed.

“That’s under Medicare for people in areas impacted by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic who have used their 10 sessions already in a calendar year,” the Prime Minister said.

Australia has joined other nations in releasing the first International Declaration on Mental Health Crisis Care, that gives healthcare leaders, governments and community organisations a blueprint for quality mental health crisis care that should be available for everyone, everywhere, every time it is needed.

The declaration says people experiencing a mental health crisis deserve a service response equivalent to that available for a physical health emergency.

It cites faith leaders and communities as being necessary in “a crisis response system so that access to compassionate, person-centred crisis care is affordable, accessible, accountable, comprehensive and rooted in best practices”.

“Crisis care is the most basic element of mental health care, yet in many communities, it is taken for granted. Limited. An afterthought. A work-around. Even non-existent,” the declaration states.

“Mental healthcare must be moved out of the shadows and into mainstream care focused on the whole person.”

This month’s release of the Australian Catholic bishops’ annual social justice statement pinpoints the magnitude of the mental health crisis in Australia, exacerbated by drought, bushfires and now COVID-19.

The statement, To Live Life to the Full: Mental health in Australia today, calls for a national commitment to address those policies that exacerbate the already precarious circumstances of indigenous Australians, refugees and asylum-seekers.

“Our society tends to push away or draw away from those who confront us with our frailties and limitations. This is not the way of Jesus,” Bishop Terry Brady, Bishop Delegate for Social Justice on the Bishops Commission for Social Justice, said.

“Let us follow Him in drawing near to those who are experiencing mental ill-health and acknowledge that they are members of the Body of Christ – ‘they’ are part of ‘us’.

“Only then can we say ‘we are all in this together’.

“Only then can we ‘live life to the full’.”

The bishops’ statement, released ahead of Social Justice Sunday on August 30, is available for download from the Office for Social Justice. website: http://bit.ly/SocialJustice_2020

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