By Josh Butler | 10 daily Senior News Reporter
Coronavirus loneliness, depression and anxiety is taking a toll on “everyone”, health minister Greg Hunt said, with the government tipping in another $48 million for mental health.
Following a meeting of the national cabinet on Friday, the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan has been adopted, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a Parliament House press conference on Friday.
He said the federal government would commit $48.1 million in additional funding to implement that plan.
Health minister Hunt said “one of the most important” things that needed attention was the mental health of the nation.
“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 have come with the pandemic have created specific mental health challenges,” he 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.”
Hunt detailed that the funding would cover the collection and analysis of updated data around mental health and COVID, nearly $30 million for investment in outreach to vulnerable communities, and more than $11 million for a national campaign to raise awareness and say “it’s OK to not be OK”.
He said the latest data from Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania had shown “no known increase in suicide rates”, which he called “heartening, and more heartening than we’d expected.”
“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,” Hunt said.
Christine Morgan, CEO of the National Mental Health Commission and National Suicide Prevention Adviser, said it was important to address “risky behaviour” potentially linked to the pandemic, such as substance abuse or gambling.
“We must, and we will, deal with the issues around violence, domestic, family, sexual violence,” she added.
Morgan said she was also heartened by statistics showing suicide had not yet risen, but said it was an issue that needed to be closely monitored. She urged Australians to maintain social connections.
“Because if you are connected with people, you have hope. And hope is what we all need,” she said.
“We are looking here to really say, we will be there for people to address their mental health needs, whether that is if you’re challenged by a mental illness, or you are challenged by mental unwellness or issues. We’ll be there. We will come to you in community. We will significantly improve the data so that we can be much more informed.”
Morrison said expanded telehealth services had helped the number of presentations and consulations grow back to the numbers before the pandemic, which he called a “welcome” update.
“It’s an important reminder to all Australians, of course, keep COVID-safe, but don’t neglect your other health conditions,” the PM said.
Mental health organisation The Reach Foundation said it welcomed the announcement.
“The reality is that the state of Australia’s mental health, especially for young people, was already of concern prior to the pandemic. COVID-19 has only exacerbated these challenges that prevent young people from achieving their potential,” Reach said in a statement.
“Adolescence is already complicated enough, and for young people who are particularly vulnerable, the consequences of not supporting their mental health and wellbeing will have lasting consequences.”
“We need more preventative and early intervention programs to equip young people with the tools to navigate through life’s challenges. It’s up to all parts of our community to rally around our young people.”