Victoria Announces $868 Million for Mental Health

Victoria Announces $868 Million for Mental Health
James Merlino speaks to the media during a press conference on August 02, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Victoria’s upcoming budget will feature an unprecedented $868.8 million in funding to reform the state’s “broken” mental health system.

Mental Health Minister James Merlino said the system was not fit for purpose, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have got the twin wicked challenge of a mental health system that is broken, and this year dealing with the impact of a global pandemic, and all the stress and isolation, being apart from loved ones and the impact on people’s mental health,” he told reporters on Nov. 12.

“So now, more than ever, we need to invest in reform in a mental health system.”

The funding package, part of the state’s Nov. 24 budget, will include $492 million for 120 mental health beds at hospitals across Melbourne and Geelong.

“There will literally be tens of thousands of people who will benefit from these additional beds,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.

There will also be $18.9 million for 35 acute treatments beds for public mental health patients in private health services, and $21.4 million to support the expansion of the Hospital Outreach Post-Suicidal Engagement (HOPE) service.

Some $2.2 million will go towards designing the Victorian Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing, a facility dedicated to bringing together experts and those with lived experience.

Andrews said the government was committed to delivering “every single” recommendation of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System’s interim report, which was tabled in parliament last November.

The report said the state’s mental health system had “catastrophically failed to live up to expectations” and recommended Victorians pay a new tax help fund an overhaul of the sector.

Merlino said it was not the time to introduce a new tax.

The royal commission’s final report isn’t due until February 2021.

“We aren’t going to wait, and we can’t wait,” Merlino said.

“This is a massive mental health budget, and a down payment, if you like, as we prepare for the final report of the royal commission next year.”

Merlino said there has been a five percent increase in mental health presentations at emergency departments amid the pandemic, with young people most at risk.

But the latest figures from the Coroners Court shows the state’s suicide rate has remained relatively stable.

There were 580 deaths in the year to Oct. 31, compared with 600 in 2019 and 587 the year before.

“We’re not seeing it reflected in the death rate in terms of suicide but we are seeing an increased demand for services and we expected that, we knew that that would happen,” he said.

Earlier this month, Melbourne came out of a 112-day lockdown that included evening curfews and strict travel limits.

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By Benita Kolovos