Plan to get ahead of next virus curve

Australians in need of assistance with mental health conditions, including those resulting from financial or social stress during the COVID-19 crisis, are being urged to "please, please" seek help.

The Federal Government today announced it had adopted the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan, put together by the head of the National Mental Health Commission Christine Morgan in collaboration with states and territories.

The Commonwealth has contributed $48.1 million to the plan.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said that included an "exceptionally important" $7.3 million investment in research and data "into what's happening in real time", $29.5 million in outreach to vulnerable communities and $11.3 million to communication and further outreach.

"$10.4 million of that will be part of a national campaign to say to Australians, 'It's OK not to be OK'," he said.

"Anybody can feel the stress of mental health.

"Not only is it OK not to be OK, but there are pathways to help."

The vulnerable communities aspect encompasses the elderly, people from non-English-speaking backgrounds, indigenous Australians and those with pre-existing mental health conditions.

"The stress of concerns about health, the loneliness of isolation, anxiety about a job, a small business set of finances, the mortgage - all of these pressures that come with the pandemic have created specific mental health challenges," Mr Hunt said.

"Everyone here will have seen or felt, in amongst their own families or friends or circles, the pressures that are in place right across Australia."

He said information from Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania showed no known increase in suicide rates in the first four months of 2020.

"That is heartening, more heartening than we'd expected," he said.

"We watch very carefully, however, because these things can build up. They can brew. People can dwell. And so we want to get ahead of the curve."

The minister said Victoria had already announced a contribution of $19.5 million and other states will follow.

He said as a whole, $8 billion had been allocated "to the full health and mental health needs of the nation".

Ms Morgan said the plan had been "quiet a heartening and encouraging" collective effort and recognised that "mental health is an integral part of each and every one of us".

National Mental Health Commission CEO Christine Morgan. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAP
National Mental Health Commission CEO Christine Morgan. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAP

She said the "diversity" of mental health issues needs to be addressed.

"We come into the pandemic, we go through the pandemic, and we'll emerge from the pandemic with various ranges of mental illness and mental health issues and mental wellbeing," Ms Morgan said.

"And we need to address that diversity. We also heard very, very strongly about the fact that there are particular vulnerable groups, and we need to meet the needs of those vulnerable groups."

Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy. Picture: Sam Mooy/Getty Images
Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy. Picture: Sam Mooy/Getty Images

Earlier this week, the Government announced a Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, Dr Ruth Vine, who will sit alongside Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy on the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee advising the National Cabinet.

"A really important thing is that Australians do not neglect their general health issues," Prof Murphy said on Friday.

"If you need to go and see your specialist, you need to go and see your GP, please do so. And if you need to get help with mental health conditions, please, please do so."

In a statement following the announcement, Suicide Prevention Australia chief executive Nieves Murray applauded the "considered, practical and timely response".

"Awareness campaigns, however, need to be meaningful and we strongly advise working closely with the sector and people with lived experience," she said.

"It is time to move beyond awareness and into action on mental health and suicide prevention. What we don't need is another talkfest."

Originally published as Plan to get ahead of next virus curve


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