"The system around mental health is broken."
Those were the words Grampians Community Health chief executive officer Greg Little said in response to after the report from the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System was released on Tuesday with significant recommendations to how mental health services were provided.
Mr Little said the findings of the report reinforced what a number of health services and community agencies have been saying for some time.
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He said there was an over reliance on dealing with people when they are in crisis rather than offering people genuine community-based alternatives to hospital or crisis-based care.
"The report outlines that we need to be proactive and available when issues first emerge and have community based support in place to provide immediate and long term avenues for people living with mental illness in order for them to recover and be an active part of our community," he said.
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Uniting's Alcohol, Other Drugs and Mental Health General Manager Laurence Alvis told the inquiry about the need for better integration between mental health and alcohol and drug services.
"About 70 per cent of our clients have both mental health and alcohol and other drug issues, so it's important these links have been recognised," Mr Alvis said.
"If a client presents seeking treatment for alcohol or drug addiction, they would often not only have issues with their mental health, but also housing or employment, all of which are impacting on their lives.
"The holistic and integrated service model approach we have at Uniting Vic.Tas to dealing with all of the issues in people's lives is the key to giving vulnerable people renewed hope, a path to recovery and better days ahead."
Mr Little believed a number of the recommendations would have an impact on the Grampians and Wimmera area.
"The creation of regional bodies and the eventual Regional Mental Health and Wellbeing Boards should see local services such as Grampians Community Health, Uniting Wimmera and the Health services get the investment required to have the right facilities and services supported by a highly qualified workforce," he said.
"Grampians Community Health had been providing a peer led model of mental health support locally in the Wimmera for a number of years, it is great that this model had been recognised in one of the recommendations along with other integrated community treatments, therapies, care planning and coordination and 24/7 area mental health and wellbeing services. In addition, the services would be designed on what the consumers are telling us they require is a positive step forward."
Mr Little said the recommendations clearly articulated one size doesn't fit all.
"Young people, older people, people impacted by family violence, drugs and alcohol, new or expecting parents and even the local community intricacies means that we have to have service responses that are different," he said.
"The area mental health and wellbeing services would welcome the opportunity to provide the services in a way that meets the local needs whatever they look like.
"This along with the establishment of local respite facilities and family/carer services is a great step forward."
Mr Little said one of his concerns was the unknown regarding the establishment of eight regional boards.
"From Stawell to the South Australian Border, the Southern Mallee and Wimmera is a huge area with very different communities to the regional centres on the south coast and Ballarat/goldfields," he said.
"In my opinion it would be a loss of an opportunity if the people in the Grampians and Wimmera were not represented by a local area Mental Health and Wellbeing board, fingers crossed this doesn't occur.
"One thing that will remain and be strengthened by the recommendations is the collaborative nature of the local services, the philosophy of 'how can we help?' to enable people to be supported from their first to their last contact with mental health and wellbeing services is a real positive in our region that doesn't exist everywhere in the state.
"No matter how the recommendations are delivered, I'm confident this will not change."
Uniting's chief executive officer Bronwyn Pike said Uniting had seen a sharp increase in demand and welcomed the highlighted recognition of the delivery of mental health services.
"We're pleased the commission included a number of our recommendations, including increased investment in early intervention and prevention and improved co-ordination of clinical and community mental health services," Ms Pike said.
"Sadly, we've seen a sharp rise in demand for our mental health and crisis support services over the past 12 months, so it's never been more important to invest in mental health.
"As one of Victoria's leading mental health support agencies, we stand ready to partner with the Government to implement the recommendations included in the report."
Uniting Wimmera provide counselling and other mental health services across the Wimmera, Uniting were also one of many organisations who submitted a response on their experiences, views and ideas on how to improve Victoria's mental health system.
One of the key issues Uniting's submissions looked at was greater recognition of the need to improve treatment and outcomes for those with dual diagnosis.
Ms Pike said the Uniting Vic.Tas service model provided clients with a 'one stop shop' whether people with mental health issues could also address housing, employment or alcohol and drug treatment with the one organisation.
Mr Alvis said Uniting were contacted by the commission and commended on their integrated approach to mental health and drug and alcohol treatment.
"We've had a policy at Uniting for a number of years that these be under one area. It's important to have those integrated rather than treat them separately," he said.
"The commission asked us how we integrated these services."
Mr Alvis said they'll now have to wait and see what happens with the 65 recommendations.
"It was encouraging to see the discussion about rebuilding the mental health service from the bottom up, recognising the hospital system doesn't cope well with mental health," he said.
Mr Alvis said he hopes community services and training would reach regional areas.
"So people will no longer have to travel for these services," he said.
Mr Alvis said with mental health work training would mean more opportunities in the rural areas and more resources for people who need mental health services.
"Between now and the budget, hopefully we'll see some announcements," he said.
"We need these resources to come into rural areas and we can start the process of developing mental health support."
Member for Lowan and Shadow Minister for Mental Health Emma Kealy said it's almost too little, too late.
"Many of the 65 recommendations in the Royal Commission's final report are hauntingly familiar," she said.
"For too long mental health had been offered nothing more than lip service rather than being seen as the core provision of government services that it should be.
"Vulnerable Victorians have been let down by Victoria's broken mental health system for too long.
"Now the Andrews Labor Government had this final report, there can be no more excuses for failing to implement the systemic change that's so desperately needed."
If you or a loved one need support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
If you are looking for a mental health service, visit betterhealth.vic.gov.au
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