A mental health outreach program in the Wimmera is striding from success to success, with the program earning a tick of approval from the Victorian government.
The Rural Outreach program, run by Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital and coordinated by Wimmera Primary Care Partnership, is getting a recommitment of funding from the state government to the tune of $400,000.
The funding will allow the program's three mental health workers to continue operation in the Wimmera for at least the next 12 months.
The Rural Outreach program, which started in 2018, provides a non-clinical, informal approach to regional mental health, allowing people to access non-stigmatising assistance during difficult times.
Community members may access the program in a referral-free setting, which helps avoid the long wait times often associated with clinical mental health assistance.
Since its inception, the program has provided more than 1000 hours of mental health support to the community.
Rural Outreach worker Mal Coutts is one of the three workers to deliver the program in the four Wimmera shires; Horsham, Hindmarsh, Yarriambiack and West Wimmera.
Mr Coutts said much of his role was listening to the thoughts and feelings of people - who often needed to just get something off their chest.
"We just try to be available for people to talk to if they are under a bit of pressure or need someone to vent to," he said.
"Our role is, if it is needed for them, refer them to any services that they may require.
"Most of the time it is just for a chat to unload, get things off their chest. That is about it."
It is just an ongoing commitment from the government to support something they can see clearly works in our region
Mr Coutts said by the program's design, participants feel at ease, with the consultation sessions lacking the sometimes cold environment of clinical services.
"It is a non-clinical service, it is not "you have an appointment from 10.30 to 11.30", it is more of a general sit-down and chat," he said.
"It is confidential and it can be in the home, anywhere, just sit-down and have a chat about whatever is on your mind - that is our role.
"I believe it should be happening all over the state. You don't have to meet in an office, although you can if you want privacy.
"It is just a chat and you can talk about anything, get it off your chest, ask for help, run past ideas."
He said the funding provided security about the program's future, which would be reflected onto the community which it served.
"The $400,000 is for the people. It is great if we can keep this service going because it works.
"It is easy for me to say because I am employed by them, but I know it works. There's no ifs and buts, I know it really works and it is a great service for people and with this funding we have secured it.
"There is nothing worse than a program suddenly finishing up. Now that this program has 12 more months of funding we can keep going and keep working down the track with no finishing date."
The funding win comes after a Swinburne University report published in early 2021 found the program had yielded positive outcomes for community members who engaged with its services.
In the period from January 1, 2019 and January 31, 2021, a total of 1511 forms were completed with the program, resulting in 159 to further mental health assistance.
Men were more likely than women to use the service for both initial assessments and follow up visits, making up 57 per cent and 54 per cent of the program's engagements respectively.
The program also catered to a wide array of users, which tended to be aged between 31 and 70, although a substantial number were below 20, including 15 aged below 15-years-old.
Wimmera Primary Care Partnership executive Geoff Witmitz said the program addressed a need for local mental health services identified in the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System.
It is just a chat and you can talk about anything, get it off your chest, ask for help, run past ideas
"For me it is a great acknowledgement of the success of the program, so I am really looking forward to seeing how the broader health sector changes that are being proposed and the outcomes of the response to the mental health royal commission," he said.
"It is pleasing to see. It will be really interesting to see what happens post-June 2022 and what comes from the mental health royal commission.
"Realistically, looking at those local health and wellbeing hubs. Seeing how we morph something like that into the future so that we maintain services to the community.
"It is just an ongoing commitment from the government to support something they can see clearly works in our region."
Victorians are invited to have their say on the key features of the new Local Adult and Older Adult Mental Health and Wellbeing Services which will play a key role in Victoria's mental health system reform.
Mr Coutts also encouraged anybody struggling through a difficult time to get in touch with Rural Outreach.
"If you see someone that is struggling from their normal activities or their normal wellbeing and you don't know what to do, how to approach them or what to ask them, tell them to ring up Rural Outreach and someone will come to have a talk in a listening and understanding way," he said.
To provide feedback on local services, visit engage.vic.gov.au.
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