By Jackson Russell

A new headspace centre will be established in Mitchell Shire should Labor be elected in May 18’s federal election.

Shadow Minister for Mental Health Julie Collins and Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell joined Mitchell Shire councillors and youth councillors in Wallan last week to make the announcement.

Mitchell Shire Council, and its youth council, began campaigning earlier this month for better mental health services in the shire.

Youth councillors shed tears of joy at the announcement of the headspace centre, which will provide tailored and holistic mental health support to 12-25 year olds and focus on early intervention.

The service also promotes young peoples’ wellbeing across mental health, physical health, work and study support, and alcohol and other drug services.

Youth Mayor Ebony Layley said the headspace service could change lives in Mitchell Shire.

“The fact that it’s going to be local is the most amazing thing because we don’t have to travel and its easier access for those kids that can’t travel outside of the shire to get there,” she said.

“That’s probably one of the most incredible things about the entire thing that it’s just going to be accessible for almost everyone and it’s going to make it easier all round which is incredible.”

A Youth Survey in 2017 identified suicide prevention, support for drug addiction and mental illness help as the three top priorities for Mitchell Shire youth.

With studies showing that half of all lifetime cases of mental health disorders being by the age of 14, Mitchell Shire has a higher than average rate of adults experiencing high or very high psychological distress.

Ms Collins said the commitment of more than $3 million over four year comes was due to the advocacy of council and local youth.

“We saw the passion from the young people about just how important these services are,” she said.

“It’s important that we have services that intervene early. We also know that the closer they are to local people they are in the community, the more likely people are to access the services rather than have to travel or rely on public transport to see services.”

Mr Mitchell said early intervention services were desperately needed throughout regional Victoria, particularly in fast growing peri-urban fringes such as Mitchell Shire.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work on suicide prevention through the Mitchell Shire Suicide Prevention Network, Live4 Life, Bully Zero, and we’ve known for a long time that this has been an issue,” Mr Mitchell said.

“However, when a young person is experiencing mental ill health and is looking for help, help should be there for them.

“This is why we have listened to the local community and health professionals to commit to a headspace centre where it’s needed.”

Mitchell Shire Mayor Bill Chisholm said it was great to see youth mental health services a focus in the shire.

“Having an organisation like headspace in the region working directly with our youth will make a significant difference,” he said.

“We have heard from the local service providers that they are employing staff without funding just to support our community so this is really great.”

Health organisations have backed Mitchell Shire Council’s campaign for better mental health services to be funded in the May 18 federal election.

With the Mitchell shire’s population forecast to grow to more than 270,000 residents over the next 30 years, the council is pushing for more mental health services before the community grows further.

Nexus Primary Health chief executive Suzanne Miller said Nexus Primary Health recognised critical gaps in the health care system in Mitchell Shire and increased their workforce to support residents.

“Nexus employs 12 people working as psychologists, mental health occupational therapists and mental health social workers.

We did this to respond to demand even though we get very little funding for mental health services,” she said.“We receive funding for two of these workers, but we have employed this team to meet demand.

“The funding we do receive is minor and usually is made up from state and federal government funding and the Primary Health Networks. Each funding source has its own set of rules and expectations that we must meet.”

Ms Miller said the service also employs counselling staff in Alcohol and Drug and Family Violence Services, which was also in high demand.

“Up until the start of March, our counselling services alone have had 428 referrals which is an average of more than 50 new referrals each month. This doesn’t include family violence and alcohol and drug services,” she said.

“As of February, this year, residents were waiting for 26 days at the most before some type of service response. The clients we see range from mild to severe symptoms, and the therapy we provide is tailored specifically for each person.”

“For people to wait 26 days, that is pretty extraordinary to wait in the mental health sector.”

Melinda Lawley, chief executive of The Bridge Youth Service, which operates a service in Seymour, said mental health prevention was key for youth living in rural areas.

“We want to see improvements in youth mental health and we believe we can do this by working with young people earlier, before their mental health deteriorates,” she said.

“An agency like The Bridge Youth Services can help change lives by working with the young person and their family to improve communication and link them in with specialists if required.

“We use evidence-based programs that can demonstrate improvements in the mental health of young people. Something must be done now to stem the flow of young people needing specialist services and improve their quality of life in rural settings.”

Key statistics:
• Mitchell Shire has a high proportion of people who are at very high risk of developing poor mental health outcomes – 7.1 per cent. The Victorian state average is 3.9 per cent.
• Proportion of adult population with levels of very high psychological distress – 14.8 per cent.
• Proportion of adult population with levels of moderate psychological distress – 18.3 per cent.