Wimmera social workers have welcomed the federal government's $1.1 billion funding package to boost mental health services, domestic violence support, and Medicare assistance for people at home and emergency food relief.
The announcement, made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday, includes $669 million to expand Medicare-subsidised telehealth services, for phone or video conferencing appointments.
Uniting Wimmera executive officer Josh Koenig said while he hasn't heard all the details of what the funding will mean, he welcomed the extra support.
"Whether it be Uniting Wimmera, Grampians Community Health, the Centre Against Sexual Assault - I think I can comfortably speak on behalf of them that any extra support out here to the Wimmera is welcomed," he said.
"We've got a real risk with our small and rural communities with social isolation and people being very distant from local centres, and even more so now that stage 3 restrictions are in place across Victoria.
"There's a real concern with our rural people."
Mr Koenig said demand for services had been "business as usual" at Uniting Wimmera, but had seen an increase in calls for information on how to access the Christian Emergency Food Centre or the Red Cross to get a food package.
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"What people people miss the most are the face to face and social interactions, as consumers or with colleagues," he said.
"I think as we move forward we're going to find that impacts on people a lot more than what's been reported."
Horsham-based social worker Tim O'Donnell said he was relieved the government had recognised the risks to people's mental health in the face of isolation and unemployment.
The fact that telehealth has been considered something Medicare would fund is brilliant.Horsham social worker Tim O'Donnell
"I'm relieved they've highlighted that as part of the coronavirus people will be dealing with issues around isolation and it will exacerbate some people with a mental health issue," he said.
"The fact that telehealth has been considered something Medicare would fund is brilliant.
"Many people have suddenly become unemployed, through no fault of their own.
"Some people will experience maybe their first ever mental health episode."
The government's package included $6.75 million set aside to specifically help younger Australians stay on track in their education and prepare them for the workforce, by delivering the headspace digital work and study service and eheadspace.
headspace, a free counselling and support service for young people with an office in Horsham, has been transitioning to using online services for a year.
Headspace Horsham manager Liz Rowe said many of the young people involved with headspace were already familiar with the online service.
Ms Rowe added that while her office had not yet seen an increase in demand for assistance, she expected one "in the weeks to come".
"We will be here to support young people living in the Wimmera when they need us," she said.
"Our operating hours remain the same, however our office doors are closed and we are supporting young people who live in the Wimmera over the phone, or through our telehealth service."
If you need to speak to someone urgently, call Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline 13 11 14. Visit the eheadspace website or call 1800 650 890.
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