“Previously, the only gap-free care available was as a hospital inpatient, and that’s not what’s best for people to recover,” she said.
The Head to Help COVID-19 mental health clinics opened their doors on September 14, a month after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced they would be set up under one-year contracts in response to a spike in calls to crisis telephone lines and hospital presentations for self harm.
The speed of the roll-out contrasts with the eight adult mental health centres announced in the 2019-20 federal budget, which are not due to open their doors until next year. Under the $114.5 million plan, one of the centres will be located in each state or territory, including Corio in Victoria and Penrith in NSW.
Professor Hickie, now the co-director of health and policy at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, said while Melbourne’s lockdown had “exacerbated” mental health issues, the notion that it’s a Victorian problem created by pandemic restrictions “is a nonsense”. He said nation-wide funding was needed for integrated models of care like Head to Help.
A spokesman for federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the data indicates “prolonged restrictions are having a disproportionate effect on people in Victoria” compared to elsewhere and the 15 clinics “were rolled out to ensure that additional community-based support is available to assist Victorians during this challenging time”.
The spokesman credited the work of Professor Pat McGorry and other experts for developing the service model for the adult mental health centres, which allowed for the rapid establishment of the Victorian clinics.
Ms Groves said she was given the contract to deliver the Brunswick East service after pioneering the “holistic” model over the past seven years with patients who received treatment under no-gap schemes funded by health insurers and WorkSafe.
“Our data shows we decrease hospital admissions by over 90 per cent,” she said.
Patients are given a comprehensive treatment plan to be delivered by a team of experts – psychiatrists and psychologists along with social workers, nurses and occupational therapists trained in mental health – to help address the complex circumstances that may be implicated in their mental illness.
The clinic accepts patients who are triaged through the Head to Help telephone referral service, staffed by intake clinicians who establish whether a person needs to be referred to an acute service in a hospital or could simply be referred for counselling.
Head to Help picks up those who do not fall into either category, often described as the “missing middle” of mental healthcare.
Head to Help intake clinician Belinda Lazarides said she had taken calls from many Victorians who lacked an ability to “navigate the mental health system” and would otherwise “fall through the gaps”.
In one case, a man who called for a referral to a financial counselling service was given more significant help after she established that he had overdosed the night before and had family and relationship difficulties.
Head to Help Melbourne clinics are located in Berwick, Broadmeadows, Brunswick East, Frankston, Hawthorn, Heidelberg, Officer, Yarra Junction and Wyndham Vale, while regional Victorian clinics are in Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Sale, Warragul and Wodonga. To access the Head to Help service, phone 1800 595 212.
Support is also available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.