$76m boost for mental health support

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Government promises funding for expanded mental health services including free counselling for bushfire-affected people and training for frontline personnel including pharmacists

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced an initial $76 million in funding that will go towards providing free counselling sessions, extra Medicare and telehealth consultations, an expansion of headspace services for young Australians, and community recovery initiatives.

“These bushfires have been unprecedented in their scale, coverage and duration,” said Mr Morrison.

“They have caused tragic loss of life and physical damage, that have scarred our landscape … they have also taken a traumatic emotional toll on our people.

“We need to ensure the trauma and mental health needs of our people are supported in a way like we never have before.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt urged people to reach out for support and check in on loved ones.

“Our government’s response will help assist with distress counselling and mental health support for individuals, families and communities, including frontline personnel, impacted by the ongoing bush fire emergency,” said Minister Hunt.

Millions in funding will be provided to support free counselling sessions, greater access Medicare-supported psychological sessions and mental healthcare via telehealth, and support for emergency workers, among other initiatives.

A further $1 million has also been promised for training for frontline emergency service personnel in psychological first aid, including training for pharmacists and other health professionals “who are often the first people that communities turn to for support”, said Minister Hunt.

The PSA has been working very closely with the Minister and his office over the last couple of months “to look at one of the integral things pharmacists can do, and that’s to provide mental health first aid and services to communities that have been through crises,” says PSA national president Chris Freeman.

“Pharmacists, as frontline health service providers, have a critical role in this area. Pharmacists are the most frequently visited health professionals and therefore we’ve got the opportunity to assist people for mental health needs,” says A/Prof Freeman.

“[People] are regularly in contact with their pharmacist and for someone who has mental health issues, it’s that frequency of contact that becomes clinically important.

“What this measure means is that there will be additional training and resources for pharmacists and other professionals to better equip them and to provide them with resources in helping people with mental health issues, particularly those who have been affected by the current crisis.”

One million dollars will also be provided for training of staff in organisations that manage frontline emergency personnel, in order to help them identify and assist emergency personnel who may be at risk. 

The government’s initial funding package for mental health support includes:

  • $10.5 million to make up to 10 free counselling sessions immediately available for individuals, including emergency services personnel, who have been affected by the bushfires. These sessions will be offered at recovery centres, Service Australia centres, and existing local mental health centres in fire affected regions to provide short-term distress support.
  • $29.6 million for additional Medicare-supported psychological treatment sessions and expanded access to mental health care via telehealth. Anyone who has been impacted by bushfires will be eligible to receive Medicare rebates for up to 10 psychological therapy sessions provided by GPs, psychologists, and other eligible mental health professionals. These 10 sessions will be in addition to the 10 psychological therapy sessions currently available under Medicare. Individuals will not need to have a GP referral or mental health treatment plan.
  • $3.2 million to help deploy bushfire mental health response coordinators to fire-affected areas.
  • $7.4 million to manage increased demand for headspace services: $300,000 per headspace sites significantly impacted by fire plus expediting funding of $4.4 million over five years to ensure the planned Bateman’s Bay headspace site is up and running by the end of the year.
  • $16 million for specialist organisations to provide them with trauma care services, to ensure extensive and ongoing support for emergency services workers and their families.
  • $1 million for training for frontline emergency service personnel in trauma-informed care and psychological first aid. This includes training for doctors, pharmacists, and health professionals who are often the first people that communities turn to for support.
  • $1 million will also be provided for training of staff in organisations that manage front line emergency personnel, in order to help them identify and assist emergency personnel who may be at risk.
  • $6.9 million for community wellbeing grants and further funding for locally tailored mental health services through Primary Health Networks (PHNs).

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