Victoria moves forward with mental health reforms

March 10, 2021

Following the release of the final report from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s mental health system, we have compiled a summary of key announcements made by the Victorian Government alongside highlights from the media coverage and the first part of the Symposium hosted by Mental Health Victoria.

The Victorian Government is already working closely with the public health sector and many other parts of the mental health system to begin implementing the 65 recommendations from the Royal Commission, with the final report already gaining national and international attention.

Supporting Victorians close to home key to overhauling Victoria’s mental health system

Victorians will be able to get the treatment they need sooner, closer to home and family, with six new mental health priority sites being set up across the state, providing a ‘front-door’ for anyone in the community to access mental health support including a range of therapies and expanded wellbeing treatment.

A key recommendation, these new local Adult and Older Adult Mental Health and Wellbeing Services will help Victorians access help in the community earlier, before they need to access a hospital or when they reach a crisis point.

The Victorian Government has also announced that ambulance services will become first responders to calls for mental health support, with new training and support for emergency services who will play a key role in overhauling the system and implementing the recommendations.

The first six locations for the Adult and Older Adult Mental Health and Wellbeing Services, recommended by experts, include:

  • Benalla which has the highest per capita level of suicide over the 2011-2020 period, as well as one of the highest per capita levels of suicide attempts presenting to emergency departments
  • Brimbank which has one of the highest levels of very high psychological distress (a measure of anxiety and depression) recorded across Victoria
  • Frankston which has one of the highest per capita rates of suicide attempts presenting at emergency departments in 2020-21 and one of the highest per capita rates of suicide over the 2011-2020 period
  • Greater Geelong which consistently has higher than state averages for self-harm presentations per capita in all recent years
  • Latrobe Valley which has one of the highest rates of mental health presentations to emergency departments, including for self-harm and suicide attempts
  • Whittlesea which has one of the highest levels of community mental health contacts per capita, as well as significant evidence surrounding ongoing mental health issues related to the Black Saturday bushfires

The Department of Health will immediately investigate options to establish services within each priority region, including consulting with established local providers. The first service would open from mid-2022, with all six of the initial services open by the end of 2022.

The new services will work to a ‘how can we help?’ model, helping people seamlessly access the right support for them, close to home, across a transformed mental health and wellbeing system. They will operate in partnership with reformed, area-based adult and older adult mental health and wellbeing services, and specialist statewide services – ensuring the right level of care is available in the right time.

The sector has also begun to build on its work over the past two years, including key ideas shared through the Mental Health Sector Forums throughout 2019 and 2020.

Report gains national and international attention

The Royal Commission’s final report has received positive attention from across the state, and beyond, with calls from other states to use the Victorian model to support other Australians.

Highlights of the coverage include:

‘Not just ticking boxes’: VHA CEO explores governance and funding at Symposium

Only days after the release of the final report, Mental Health Victoria hosted the first part of a 2-day symposium, Putting it all together: Royal Commissions, Inquiries, Strategies and Vision 2030. Day One focused on the Royal Commission report and over 250 attendees from across Victoria and the country engaged with discussion around the findings and its 65 recommendations.

VHA CEO Tom Symondson provided an overview of the recommended changes to governance and funding arrangements and stressed that any changes related to involving the community must not just be about ‘ticking a box’.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Mental Health The Hon. James Merlino opened the day’s event with a number of esteemed keynote speakers and engaging panellists sharing their insights including health sector leaders such as Gateway Health CEO Leigh Rhode.

Day Two of the Symposium is scheduled to start at 9am on Wednesday 17 March, with a focus on national reforms including the Productivity Commission’s final report.