Mental health services are set to receive a $74 million boost as part of the federal government’s $1.1 billion health and domestic violence package announced yesterday to combat the effects of COVID-19.
Beyond Blue will receive $10 million to run a dedicated coronavirus mental health hotline that will provide information, counselling and referrals online and by phone.
The service will offer support ranging from coping and wellbeing advice to digital self-help tools and counselling by mental health professionals around the clock.
Beyond Blue reports its existing 24/7 support service received a 30% increase in calls and emails over the past week, with one in three people directly impacted by the coronavirus.
Beyond Blue Chair Julia Gillard said demand for mental health and wellbeing support and advice was growing as COVID-19 escalates.
“This pandemic is having profound impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of many Australians – we are seeing that with our current services,” Ms Gillard said.
“People are looking for support to cope with the effects of widespread anxiety and uncertainty, self-isolation and loneliness, family stress, and business collapse, job loss and financial hardship caused by COVID-19.”
The federal government’s broad health and domestic violence package includes $669 million to expand Medicare-subsidised telehealth services, including mental health consultations for all Australians, and $150 million towards domestic violence initiatives.
The $74 million injection for mental health includes awareness and prevention measures and targeted support for vulnerable Australians including a platform to support frontline health workers, expansion of the Community Visitors Scheme and Older Persons Advocacy Network for older Australians, and development of mental health and wellbeing resources for Indigenous Australians.
Crisis support and suicide prevention service Lifeline also received funding to help “ensure that no Australian has to face their darkest moments alone during the COVID-19 outbreak”.
Lifeline Australia Chairman John Brogden said the organisation would use the funding to ease unemployment by increasing Lifeline’s Crisis Support capacity to meet increased demand for the service during the outbreak.
The funding will help ensure crisis support staff are available to respond to calls, chats and text messages remotely and maintain critical services for local communities.
“Just in the last week, the number of callers who contacted Lifeline and wanted to talk about concerns surrounding COVID-19 has increased from 23% to 39%. We expect this to continue to rise as Australians lose opportunities to connect with each other due to the effects of COVID-19.”
The National Mental Health Commission welcomed the federal government’s mental health response to COVID-19, saying the targeted support for vulnerable Australians was crucial.
To complement the funding, the Commission has launched a national online campaign – #InThisTogether – to provide Australians with important practical mental health and wellbeing tips.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, and the social and economic impacts of physical distancing and isolation measures, will have an impact on our mental health and wellbeing – for some it will be more serious than others, and there are ways we can respond proactively.”
“We understand the impacts and consequences the virus is having on our lives, especially for those whose employment, financial, social and housing circumstances, and livelihoods are impacted. Now more than ever, we will need to prioritise our mental health, and there are a number of free services and supports available each and every day on the phone and online.”
Anyone experiencing distress as a result of COVID-19 can access immediate advice and support through:
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800