An additional $4.5 million in funding for mental health services to address increased demand from many Canberrans impacted by COVID-19 has been pledged by the ACT Government.
Menslink is one of the organisations supported by the new package and will receive $135,000, which includes $80,000 previously announced.
“For Menslink this is a much-needed support package from the government,” CEO Martin Fisk said. “We traditionally have 70% of our total funding come from the private sector, fundraising and donations, and that’s gone into a hole. We have had to cancel two huge fundraisers this year with the potential for more.”
More broadly, Mr Fisk said the funding recognises “that we are going to see some very significant mental health affects come out of coronavirus”.
“In my opinion, we are going to see the mental affect of coronavirus long after the physical health crisis eases off,” Mr Fisk said.
He said Menslink experienced an initial decline in people accessing their service when the COVID-19 pandemic started – “at that point in time their attention turned to Centrelink not Menslink”. However, calls for help are now steadily increasing.
Mr Fisk said while young people are not as worried about the virus as their parents, they are worried about the family environment, online bullying and being socially isolated or lonely.
When school resumes, Mr Fisk expects there will also be some transitional issues “and we’ll be there to help them through”.
He said the support provided by both the ACT and Federal governments has allowed them to retain all their staff and continue to deliver critical services to young men and their families.
Telehealth is used for all counselling sessions, while the mentoring program has moved from doing everything remotely to mentors being encouraged to take young guys out one-on-one (and socially distant) for walks or bike rides around Canberra.
Long-term, Mr Fisk said everything depends on how long and how well the economy recovers.
“I think donations to charity are definitely discretionary spending … I think many charities, of which we are but one, are going to be challenged for some time. I’m hoping by this time next year we will be back to normal.”
Funding for mental health and wellbeing
Canberrans have had a difficult start to 2020 with poor air quality, bushfires, a major hailstorm and now the COVID-19 pandemic which has resulted in a significant increase in people seeking mental health support.
ACT Minister for Mental Health, Shane Rattenbury, said the government is “stepping up our support for Canberrans with $4.5 million in new funding to support the mental health system to meet the growing demand and provide services to people who need them, when and where they need them”.
TheACT Government will provide $2.55 million in additional funds to community mental health organisations to support their existing services to meet the increased demand from the Canberra community. The additional funds will be provided to organisations such as Lifeline Canberra, Menslink, the Way Back Support Service and OzHelp.
The government will also provide $1.9 million to expand Canberra Health Services programs responding to and supporting people experiencing a mental health crisis.
The package includes an additional $720,000 to expand the Access Mental Health and Home Assessment Acute Response Team and $720,000 to expand the Police, Ambulance, Clinician Emergency Response (PACER) service to operate seven days a week.
There is also an investment of $342,000 to create two Canberra Safe Haven Cafés which will be managed in partnership with a community mental health NGO. These cafés are a new initiative in the ACT and will provide a safe alternative to the emergency department and other treatment services for adults over 18 years experiencing loneliness, personal difficulties, or simply seeking social connection.
The package includes $100,000 in additional support for Canberra’s LGBTIQ+ community to ensure key services can continue to be delivered by A Gender Agenda and Aids Action Council ACT; an additional $100,000 for grief and loss counselling; $450,000 for funding further initiatives in the mental health sector as required. This money is available for innovative responses and new ways of working, and is intended to help community organisations fill gaps where they have identified an emerging need for additional mental health support within their services; and $250,000 to commission an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander targeted mental health program.
The ACT Government has also allocated $1.7 million to support a range of non-government organisations (NGOs) in the health sector.
More than 40 NGOs ranging from alcohol and drug services to palliative care will share $1.3 million in project or program funding.
An additional $200,000 has been identified to provide flexible funding to support alcohol and other drug services to respond to demand pressures or to innovate in the way their essential services are delivered, and $200,000 to Carers ACT to work with the Health Care Consumers’ Association, ACT Health Directorate, Canberra Health Services and relevant NGOs to support individuals and families to access telehealth services.