Geelong mental health a ‘priority’

By Luke Voogt

A higher-than-average rate of self-harm in Geelong has prompted state government to “fast-track” plans to improve local mental health treatment.

Geelong will be one of six “priority” sites across Victoria for improved services next year, Mental Health Minister James Merlino announced on Wednesday.

“Today we take the very first step to implement the ambitious agenda set out in the final report [of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System],” Mr Merlino said.

“It will take time, but these new localised mental health services will provide better coverage and easier access to services for Victorians, no matter where they live.”

The six sites, which will begin operating in mid-2022, are the first of up to 60 sites planned in response to the Royal Commission’s recommendations.

Greater Geelong has consistently had self-harm presentations higher than the Victorian average per capita in all recent years, according to state government.

The government has yet to announce which sites will receive new treatment facilities and which will instead involve an expansion of existing services.

The sites will provide a “front door” for Victorians to access mental health treatment to prevent them from needing hospitalisation or reaching a crisis point later, according to government.

The Royal Commission report contains 65 recommendations to transform mental health, and the Andrews Government has vowed to implement “every single recommendation”.

About one in five Victorians will experience a mental health problem this year, and suicide is a leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 44, according to public health data.

State government plans to consult with local health providers, such as Barwon Health, on the sites.

Barwon Health recently commenced refurbishment of its mental health inpatient unit, the Swanston Centre, in a bid to deliver better services.

The health provider is also in the final stages of planning for a mental health, alcohol and other drug hub in its emergency department.

Barwon Health plans to roll out a new Mental Health Hospital in the Home program in the latter half of this year and open a new mental health unit at its McKellar Centre in North Geelong next year.

For help phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.