RESIDENTS in the West Wimmera, Yarriambiack and Hindmarsh shires will soon have access to mental health outreach services.
Following months of consultation and lobbying by West Wimmera, Yarriambiack and Hindmarsh shire councils, the state government has allocated $200,000 towards the establishment of a Regional Outreach Program.
The 12 month program will provide mental health support for people living in outlying communities through a mobile mental health care provider.
Project partners include West Wimmera Health Service, Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital, Harrow Bush Nursing Centre and Wimmera Primary Care Partnership.
A similar outreach program previously existed in the region, but was discontinued by its operators in 2016.
West Wimemra chief executive David Leahy said the new outreach program would greatly benefit the region.
“Council has been lobbying for funding to establish a Regional Outreach Program for the past 12 months, and we are delighted that Minister Foley has listened and responded so positively,” he said.
“The Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital will undertake the role of fund holder for the partnership which will deliver this important project. At the start, the majority of funds will be targeted towards the West Wimemra area, but we will share these services with Hindmarsh and Yarriambiack as much as possible.”
He said he hoped the program was a success so ongoing funding opportunities could be made in the future.
“We will need to build a really strong business case for this and have a model that is sustainable,” he said.
“This funding will give us the capacity to employ one worker for the field and a co-ordinator, who will help organise increased awareness of mental health through training.”
Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital will advertise to fill the positions.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do this without the support of our neighbouring shires and the health services involved,” Mr Leahy said.
“(Health Minister) Martin Foley and his team were very quick to act on this after we presented the idea to them in March, which we are very grateful for. Our local member (Member for Lowan Emma Kealy) has also been very supportive and knows just how important the services are.”
West Wimmera Mayor Jodie Pretlove said the outreach program would provide more care options for people living with mental health issues.
”It will be good now to have the outreach program back in place and up-and-running. We all know how important mental health is and how much people are affected by it,” she said.
“We will always need these services because people always need someone to talk to. No everybody can find the time or ability to access services; it’s good to have someone circulating that people can reach out to.
“There are different pressures that are in isolated communities. People are often out all week working on their own all week, then you have the added pressures of drought – all sorts of things can impacts a person’s mental health.”
Hindmarsh Mayor Ron Ismay said mental health was always an important issue in isolated communities.
”Mental health is one of those things that doesn’t get enough attention; this year is going to be a tough year for people in rural communities with way things are going,” he said.
“There is a stigma still there and there are people in our community who are struggling. Plus accessing these kind of services is difficult in regional areas, so this will benefit those community members.”
Mr Foley congratulated the councils on the initiative.
“The project proposal addresses a recognised need to provide direct support to those who are isolated, to promote mental health, and to build capacity within the community and local health services, to assist people who are experiencing psychological distress,” he said.
“We are committed to ensuring the best mental health outcomes for all Victorians, including those who face the unique challenges associated with living in rural communities.”