The Federal Government’s increased funding for mental health is hopefully a sign of better mental health awareness now and into the future.
Medical health professionals play an integral part in the push to improve mental health awareness in the Australian community, with 2010 Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry (AO) offering the very human face of this.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had many understandably concerned about a spike in mental health issues, which is evidenced in the data: for example, in March alone as the first wave of COVID-19 hit the community, Lifeline saw a 22% spike in calls up from the average of 2500 to 3200 a day, or around 90000 extra calls for the month. Such data and on-the-ground empirical evidence of medical health professionals has prompted mental health experts to predict a second wave pandemic centred almost entirely on the psychological toll of the virus.
This growing mental health awareness directly related to COVID-19 predicts the impact of the virus to go beyond just the obvious mental health implications of isolation and social distancing, with spikes in unemployment, financial crises and domestic violence all presenting a range of mental health implications.
There is also the toll COVID-19 has had on medical health professionals, particularly around anxiety, anguish and distress around caring for those with the virus or, worse, watching them die from it.
At a time when it is supporting the community in so many ways, for example through expanded JobSeeker payments and the JobKeeper Program, the Federal government has also taken much-to-be-applauded action around mental health awareness as it relates to COVID-19 both now and in the future. In late March it announced $1.1billion in funding, the bulk of which was to expand Medicare subsidies for telehealth services allowing doctors and other medical health professionals greater ability to offer patient consultations.
This measure, which included psychology and psychiatry sessions (with the caveat that these must be bulk-billed) has the unintended positive consequence of lessening the drain on PPE and also could lead to longer-term improvement in mental health awareness in the community by opening up services to those facing mental health issues who might prefer a telehealth to a face-to-face consultation.
Part of the March funding also included nearly $80m for organisations offering mental health services such as Beyond Blue and Lifeline.
To further show its commitment to mental health awareness, in mid-May the Federal government tipped another $48m into a COVID-19 pandemic mental health plan. While this was deemed as falling short by some prominent figures, such as former national mental health commission Ian Hickie, this latest round of funding could also be seen in the positive light of a more long-term shift in better funding outcomes leading to ongoing improved mental health as the stigma attached to it lessens.
If you’re a medical health professional needing to talk about personal mental health issues connected to COVID-19, contact Lifeline on 13 11 44, Beyond Blue on 1800512348 or see your own GP for a referral. Your mental health should be a priority, and Gorilla Jobs stands with you and all the outstanding work you are doing during this pandemic.