Expert to tackle mental health

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The Morrison Government has appointed Australia’s first Deputy Chief Medical Officer for mental health, Dr Ruth Vine

Associate Professor Vine is the former Chief Psychiatrist for Victoria.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told Peter Stefanovic on Sky News First Edition that “She’s a former chief psychiatry, distinguished and extremely capable person”.

“Her role is two-fold; one, obviously, during the course of the pandemic to add to the support that we have for mental health.

“And then secondly, beyond that, to look at the role of mental health in coordinating with the states and territories and the Commonwealth.”

Mr Hunt said that Prime Minister Scott Morrison has requested a pandemic mental health plan to be taken before the National Cabinet on Friday.

He said that the COVID-19 pandemic and flow-on effects have put a significant strain on the mental health of many Australians, saying that economic strain “can have a demonstrated impact on mental health”.

“When you add that to the uncertainty of a health crisis as well, it’s completely understandable that there is a risk and that’s why we’re getting ahead of the curve, just as we’ve done with health,” he said. “Now, on mental health.”

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild welcomed the appointment.

“This is an appropriate and timely recognition of the prevalence of mental health conditions in today’s society, and of the focus and resources mental health responses require in our health system,” the spokesperson said.

Dr Ruth Vine.
Dr Ruth Vine.

AMA national president Dr Tony Bartone said that the doctor organisation had “specifically called for the Government to appoint a mental health specialist to assist Professor Murphy, and Dr Vine is a highly appropriate appointment”.

“Dr Vine will have the challenging and much-needed role of managing the mental health responses to COVID-19 as well as the ongoing framework of delivery of mental health care,” he said.

“Significantly, this means that, for the first time, mental ill-health will be treated as seriously by the Australian Government as other health presentations, and preventing lives being lost to suicide will be considered equally important as preventing lives lost to the COVID-19 virus directly.

“It also signals that the Government intends to take immediate and large-scale actions to save lives now in the face of the adverse impacts of this pandemic and its after-effects.

“We are expecting to see a rise in mental health problems, and the potential for increased numbers of suicides.

“Enhanced expert clinical advice will be of tremendous benefit as people begin to manage their transition back from pandemic restrictions.”

A number of mental health stakeholders including Suicide Prevention Australia, the Black Dog Institute, Lifeline and the Australian Government’s Mental Health Commission also welcomed the move.

Suicide Prevention Australia CEO Nieves Murray said that the announcement was a positive step toward a whole of government approach to managing the impacts of COVID-19.

“Any meaningful response needs to take a whole of government, whole of community approach to suicide prevention,” she said.

“We hope that Ms Vine will move into her role quickly as we need action now to reduce the high levels of distress in our communities.”

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