Date published: 
14 October 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

SABRA LANE:

Since the start of the COVID pandemic health experts have been warning about a shadow pandemic being hidden by the crisis, and that's about their fears of a big spike in the number of those needing urgent help for mental health issues.

The Federal Health Department says, since March there's been a 15 per cent increase in the number of Medicare subsidised health services delivered right around Australia. In Victoria alone during the past four weeks, there's been a 31 per cent increase in demand compared with the same time last year. That spikes coincided with the setting up of 50 new dedicated mental health clinics around the state.

Dr Ruth Vine is the Deputy Chief Medical Health Officer for Mental Health. She's based in Melbourne. Dr Vine, thanks for joining AM this morning. There are some really worrying figures out this morning, a 15 per cent increase in Australians seeking help for mental health issues since March, and in Victoria alone a 31 per cent jump in the last four weeks. Why?

RUTH VINE:

Well Sabra, I think that's a reflection of the difficult times in which we live. And that perhaps, particularly for Victorians as you've highlighted, that this has gone on for a long time, and that people are struggling to use their usual mechanisms to cope. So I think those increase in numbers also reflect some of the increases in coping capacity that has been funded through some of the helplines. I know State and Commonwealth jurisdictions have increased mental health funding in order to try and meet that anticipated demand, but it's still concerning.

And I would still encourage people to say, look, if you're if you're not finding your usual coping mechanisms are working, and you are finding increasingly that you're anxious or stuck in a very, you know, down rut, then reach out for help. I'd also highlight, Sabra, that in Victoria one of the recent additions has been the 15 new mental health clinics in primary care. And they're still only a month old, but they're already seeing a significant number of people, and I think providing help to those with moderate to severe presentations.

SABRA LANE:

Alright, well, break some of that down. One of my questions is about those 15 new centres that were set up in Victoria last month, specifically to respond to mental health needs there. How are they operating? And what kind of demand are they seeing?

RUTH VINE:

They're operating, you can ring a central number, 1800 595 212, or walk into the clinics, which you can find their location on the Head to Health website. They're staffed by a range of people - mental health nurses, occupational therapists, there's some who have access to psychiatrists and psychologists. But pretty much they're a rapid response assessment and provision of help in that centre, or referral to others. And look, I think the latest figures I've seen around that is around about 50 to 60 per cent of those who call are seen in need of a service and do receive that service.

SABRA LANE:

Dr Vine, in regards to the Victorian figures - the 31 per cent jump in four weeks - how does that compare with the rest of the nation?

RUTH VINE:

It's, it's more. I think it's about twice as much as, I think, many other places - or 15, maybe 15 to 20 per cent increase. But certainly my understanding is that that increase is particularly in younger people, and there are particular presentations that are coming which are also of concern. So again, there are also increased demands to the emergency departments, and they're seeing young people often presenting with self-harm or with thoughts of self-harm, and I think that reflects that young people are struggling to, to comprehend what's going on and to comprehend what it means. As a Victorian, I was very pleased to see young people get back to school this week.

SABRA LANE:

Do you worry? I mean, these are the people that you know about. Do you worry about the people who are not getting in touch?

RUTH VINE:

Of course. But, but I think knowing that there's the increased capability in some of those immediate access lines - like Lifeline, Beyondblue, Kids Helpline - and seeing that there has been an increase, not just in people contacting those lines but also in people who are whose calls are answered and who we know are receiving support, is reassuring to some extent.

There is always a worry I think though, Sabra, that people struggle for too long on their own, and you know, you and I would both worry about the, the ultimate of that, which is when people feel they can no longer cope with life and commit suicide. But I do think we're, we're doing our best to raise awareness and to - through webinars and through the media, and through things like we're doing today - to encourage people to recognise their help- they need help, and to also recognise that need in others, and look for ways to respond to that.

SABRA LANE:

The Federal Government now has a major report by the Productivity Commission in its possession on mental health. The Mental Health Commission is also conducting one on suicide prevention. How long will it be before the Government unveils its plan for reforms? Some experts say a delay would be terrible, and given what we're seeing now, people just can't wait.

RUTH VINE:

Well of course, I'm not the Government, so I can't say exactly how long we'll wait. I will, I will say that that Productivity Commission report was developed on the back of a couple of years of consultation, a lot of data analysis, and very detailed consideration of the current system and its faults. And so I agree with you, there should not be delay, but I also think it's very important to appropriately consider all those recommendations, to absolutely consult with the states and territories.

I think mental health services, like many other health services, but perhaps particularly they do get caught up in the different services funded through state and federal budgets and different funding models - and so really considering that consulting with states and territories, and I hope setting up a pretty speedy path for significant reform is certainly what I hope for.

SABRA LANE:

Dr Vine, thanks for talking to AM this morning.

RUTH VINE:

My pleasure. Thank you.

SABRA LANE:

And Dr Ruth Vine is the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health. And if you or anyone you know need help, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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