A lived experience perspective on Victoria’s mental health budget
The news of a record investment in mental health in the Victorian State Budget was very welcome. Some concerns I have had regarding the implementation of the massive and comprehensive reforms recommended by the Royal Commission have been addressed.
I am also pleased to see funds going towards building the workforce required to work through the planned reforms. I am looking forward to seeing the workforce strategy later this year to see how the sector will work with University and TAFE to build capacity and create interest in these roles.
A recurring issue in the sector has been the high rates of turnover and attrition, due to burnout, high workloads, overwhelming demand and compassion fatigue. I hope the workforce strategy will contain strategies to address these issues and make a career in mental health services an attractive option for aspiring professionals.
The budget also contains massive investments in infrastructure and new beds, including dedicated money for specific psych wards and funds to improve performance and flow through emergency departments.
With the change in responses to 000 calls for assistance for mental health issues, this huge investment in paramedics and ambulance services is a vital inclusion in this budget.
Funds dedicated to more step-up/step-down or PARC services acknowledge the demand for care in the community when people in distress need help but aren’t considered unwell enough for hospital, or for those being discharged but not yet ready to return home or live fully independently.
Schools, substance use and safe spaces
One aspect I am extremely excited about is the investment in mental health education in schools. This is incredibly important and potentially life changing for students who are going through a tough time.
It is also vital for changing community attitudes and addressing stigma and shame, which is a major barrier to seeking help when in crisis. It will go a long way to normalising mental health and making it something we can all discuss openly.
Continued work to decriminalise public intoxication and to reclassify addiction as a health issue is a very welcome announcement.
There is an existing perception of people with addiction and substance induced psychosis improperly taking up beds in psych units. If the system is going to adapt and offer specialised integrated supports, more investment is needed to meet the demand in the community.
The investment in community hubs for adult and older people’s mental health is much needed, but this remains a clinical/medical response to distress. Non-clinical community based services were gutted in the defunding of those programs in 2018 and the transition of many service users to the NDIS.
While the budget has significant investment towards a new workforce, it’s difficult to see how this can replace the loss of expert workers, practices, supports and culture, which can take decades to build or rebuild.
The announcement for a new dedicated female only service is a step in the right direction for single sex services, allowing for safe spaces and specialty service models for those most vulnerable to sexual assault and harassment.
I hope to see further investment in this area in future budgets, as well as initiatives to address harassment and assault in hospital psych units.
Workplaces and the centring of lived exerpience
I'm excited to see the establishment of a new mental health and wellbeing office to promote social prescribing and prevention activities, as well as the development of mentally healthy workplaces strategy.
As someone who has experienced bullying and harassment in the workplace, any initiative that focuses on the importance of mental health in the workplace is going to be well received!
Expansion of the HOPE project is a much needed further investment to allow for follow up and support for people who have attended emergency departments for mental health related or suicidal distress reasons. There’s nothing worse than waiting for hours at an emergency department before being turned away with nowhere else to go.
Nothing in life has made me feel quite as hopeless and alone as walking away from the place that was meant to help. This expansion of the HOPE project will give that support to so many people in need.
One important recommendation of the Royal Commission was that the voice of lived experience be placed at the centre of the reformed system. The $40.7m in this budget earmarked for dedicated lived experience roles shows the Government is determined to follow through on this core recommendation.
Dave Peters has a lived experience of mental illness and recovery, and uses the insights drawn from accessing and navigating the service system to contribute to a range of work, including consulting on service design/improvement, guest lecturing for allied health students, curriculum development and research projects. Dave is a proud member of the Mental Health Victoria Lived Experience Advisory Group.