$20 million funding boost for mental health services as demand surges

Dominic Giannini 5 February 2021
Emma Davidson

Mental Health Minister Emma Davidson says the pandemic has increased the stress on Canberra’s mental health services. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The ACT Government will pump an extra $16 million into mental health services and programs in next week’s budget to support Canberrans struggling through the pandemic.

The biggest boost will be an additional $14 million for the Police, Ambulance and Clinician Early Response (PACER) program, which will allow the service to continue operating seven days a week through to 2024.

PACER teams responded to 1249 mental health callouts in 2020 and cared for 963 Canberrans in their home instead of needing to take them to hospital.

An extra $720,000 will be put towards the Access Mental Health Service and Home Assessment Acute Response Team (HAART), which provides a home-based mental health crisis assessment, short term treatment and support, and referrals.

There will also be $500,000 for the Mental Health Foundation, $135,000 for Menslink, $100,000 to continue grief counselling services during the pandemic and $80,000 for Mental Illness Education ACT.


READ ALSO: Ambulance bypass due to increased mental health presentations


Menslink CEO Martin Fisk said the funding, along with the organisation’s own fundraising, would directly support more than 200 young men, their families, schools and workplaces.

“That has a huge impact on our whole community,” he said.

“This not only supports [young men] through tough times now (at no cost to themselves or their families) but gives them the skills to maintain their resilience and mental fitness – helping to avoid costly and damaging mental health crises into the future.”

Sia Soliola and Martin Fisk

Raiders’ player Sia Soliola (left) and Martin Fisk (right) are advocating for young men to speak more freely about their mental health issues. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Mr Fisk said one high school wrote to the organisation thanking it for the work the counsellors were doing to reduce stress and anxiety from the pandemic. The funding will directly impact the number of students the organisation will be able to reach, he said.

“Every student seems to feel better after talking to the Menslink Counsellor. It could be that their stress and anxiety has been relieved by some strategies; it could be that they have new approaches for managing their anger,” he said, quoting the letter.

“Students sometimes see Menslink once, sometimes twice for followup, and sometimes regularly over longer periods when developing regulation strategies. We rely heavily on our support from Menslink to help our students succeed.”

The Government is hoping a shift towards community-based mental health programs like Menslink will help reduce the waiting times for psychiatric care in emergency departments and help reduce the severity of presentations by addressing the issues before they require emergency intervention.


READ MORE: Mental health wards at capacity across Canberra hospitals as demand surges


Safe Haven Cafes – where people who are experiencing mental health concerns or distress can go for support – will also receive an extra $80,000 to help with this. The sites are yet to be chosen.

Mental Health Minister Emma Davidson said the pandemic had increased stress on Canberra’s mental health services and the brunt of declining mental health was being borne by young people due to the pandemic’s impact on education, employment, and social connection.

“Providing early support for young people to build resilience, coping strategies and mental health literacy can help prevent mental health issues later in life,” she said.

“The package provides a roadmap for investment for vulnerable young Canberrans and aims to address key gaps identified by the sector and experts.”

An additional $3 million will also be put towards Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) to continue to operate the Adolescent Mobile Outreach Service. The service supports people under the age of 18 suffering from moderate to severe mental illnesses.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr pointed to the fact that more than half of young Canberrans described their mental health as either ‘fair’ or ‘poor’ in a recent Government survey to highlight the severity of the issue in the ACT.

Mental health services and emergency departments across Canberra have reported not only an increase in mental health-related presentations but also an increase in the complexity of presentations throughout the pandemic.

If you or anyone you know needs mental health support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24-hour crisis support. In an emergency, call triple-zero (000).

Dedicated mental health and wellbeing resources are also available through ACT Health’s COVID-19 website.


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