Although we are only at the beginning of our rapid growth, our communities are already experiencing limited access to crisis and ongoing mental health support services, Mitchell Shire’s mayor says.
One in 15 people in Mitchell Shire report high or very high psychological distress — this alarming statistic is higher than the Victorian average.
Mayor Bill Chisholm said a campaign was a crucial step towards staying ahead of increasing mental ill-health statistics in Mitchell Shire.
‘‘Part of Mitchell Shire’s federal election advocacy campaign is to highlight the significant work our local mental health service providers do, yet more funding is needed to improve these services to cut down on wait times and help our residents receive support,’’ he said.
‘‘Lack of access to appropriate and accessible services is evident as Mitchell Shire is presenting with increasing rates of youth mental health issues including anxiety and depression, attempted suicide, substance use as well as disengagement and withdrawal from formal education.
‘‘We’ve recently received funding from the state government for a new youth services hub in Wallan.
‘‘To ensure the hub can operate to its full potential, we now need federal funding to facilitate the ongoing operation for this mental health service.’’
According to the latest data from Mitchell Shire Health Profile, just 46.5per cent of Mitchell Shire residents feel valued by society — one of the lowest numbers in Victoria.
Almost 15per cent of the population has also reported high levels of mental stress.
‘‘We are at the beginning of our rapid growth and already our communities are experiencing limited access to health and human services,’’ Cr Chisholm said.
‘‘The lack of services forces vulnerable people to seek appointments further away with significant wait and travel times.
‘‘Mental health is close to home, but help is far away.
‘‘Something must be done now.’’
Wallan resident Sharon, 37, said improved mental health access in Mitchell Shire was crucial as both her and her son had experienced long delays in getting help.
‘‘Last year, I was really struggling with suicidal thoughts,’’ she said.
‘‘I decided to speak out to my doctor after it became pretty overwhelming for me and he referred me on to a counselling service outside of Mitchell Shire.
‘‘But they never called. I waited about a year before contact was made just a month ago. Thankfully, I had the support of my local doctor and my family, but I worry about people who do not have access to the services I need.’’
Sharon took the phone call and was told she would need to head to Shepparton for mental health help. But due to her job in the city and using public transport, it is impossible for Sharon to use these services in working hours.
‘‘They said I could do a video conference from Seymour, but this does not sit well with me — the lack of availability in our local area makes getting specialist help hard,’’ she said.
‘‘I am worried for everyone in our community.
‘‘There is not a lot of help for teenagers either.
‘‘I took my son to receive help in Craigieburn, but we were sent back saying we needed an appointment in Mitchell Shire. They did not have the time or resources to see patients from outside of their region.
‘‘I think the government really need to look at mental health services now, especially for the youth.
‘‘This is a massive issue, if people can get help in a local area mental health rates will improve.’’
What the chief executives say
Nexus Primary Health chief executive Suzanne Miller said the organisation recognised critical gaps in the health care system in Mitchell Shire and increased their workforce to support residents.
‘‘Nexus employs 12 people working as psychologists, mental health occupational therapists and mental health social workers,’’ she said.
‘‘We did this to respond to demand even though we get very little funding for mental health services.
‘‘We receive funding for two of these workers, but we have employed this team to meet demand. The funding we do receive is minor and usually is made up from state and federal government funding and the Primary Health Networks. Each funding source has its own set of rules and expectations that we must meet.
‘‘We also have counselling staff employed in alcohol and drug and family violence services which are very busy.
‘‘Up until the start of March, our counselling services alone have had 428 referrals which is an average of more than 50 new referrals each month — this doesn’t include family violence and alcohol and drug services.
‘‘As of February this year, residents were waiting for 26 days at the most before some type of service response.
‘‘The clients we see range from mild to severe symptoms, and the therapy we provide is tailored specifically for each person.
‘‘For people to wait 26 days, that is pretty extraordinary to wait in the mental health sector.’’ The Bridge Youth Service chief executive Melinda Lawley said mental health prevention was key for youth living in rural areas.
‘‘We want to see improvements in youth mental health and we believe we can do this by working with young people earlier, before their mental health deteriorates,’’ she said.
‘‘An agency like The Bridge Youth Services can help change lives by working with the young person and their family to improve communication and link them in with specialists if required.
‘‘We use evidence-based programs that can demonstrate improvements in the mental health of young people. Something must be done now to stem the flow of young people needing specialist services and improve their quality of life in rural settings.’’
Anyone requiring support can contact SuicideLine Victoria 1300 651 251, Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467, Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or Beyondblue on 1300 224 636.