The ACT Government is expecting a spike in demand for mental health support services as COVID-19 lockdown comes to an end, and this week unveiled an online resource for young people, and a new Safe Haven Cafe for Canberra’s north.
The MindMap ACT Youth Portal is geared towards young people aged between 12 and 25. It is a government-funded online tool that links all available mental health support services.
The site is available 24/7 and is staffed by counsellors between 12 pm and 11 pm, seven days a week.
During ACT Budget estimates hearings last week, ACT Minister for Mental Health Emma Davidson said the online resource had been created following consultation with the Territory’s young people in 2018.
She said there had been demands from young people who were consulted for a better way of navigating the mental health support system, and hoped this could fill the gap.
“It can be quite overwhelming to try to find the right service at the right time,” said Ms Davidson.
The MindMap site shows wait times for services and consultations so users can compare available treatment options.
Parents, carers and friends are also able to use the site if they want to look for resources for people they are supporting.
During the ACT Budget estimates hearings, ACT Greens MLA Johnathan Davis questioned whether sufficient effort had gone into marketing and promoting MindMap.
In response, ACT Government coordinator general for mental health and wellbeing, Dr Elizabeth Moore, said messaging will go out through schools, as well as more innovative ways, including putting the message on painted rocks around Canberra.
It’s expected there will be an increase in demand for mental health support services as lockdown restrictions ease, similar to the spike experienced in 2020.
Ms Davidson told the committee that Canberra’s first Safe Haven Cafe will open in the coming weeks in Belconnen.
“It’s a welcoming place where people can go if they are experiencing mental health distress to be connected to the right services at the right time,” she said.
The cafe will be located beside a Commonwealth-funded Head to Health facility, with a southside Safe Haven Cafe also expected in the future.
Ms Davidson was also questioned by the Opposition spokesperson on mental health, Giulia Jones, about the current and impending pressure on the ACT’s acute mental health system.
Ms Jones suggested the acute mental health system in the ACT is under extreme pressure, and that mental health wait times in emergency departments are only getting worse.
Canberra Health Services interim CEO Dave Peffer was reluctant to say it is an emergency department problem, noting instead that improvements in wait times across the entire health system are necessary.
In particular, Mr Peffer noted the “lower acuity” end of the scale is where most work needs to be done.
According to Ms Davidson, initiatives such as the Safe Haven Cafe and the Police, Ambulance, Clinician Emergency Response (PACER) model actively serve to decrease the pressure on the acute end of the system.
The PACER model received an additional $1 million in funding in the recent ACT Budget.
“The idea is that people will feel encouraged to seek help at an earlier stage in their journey … so that things don’t get to that acute level of need,” Ms Davidson told the committee.
According to an ACT Government statement released in late September 2021, during 2020, PACER teams responded to 1249 mental health callouts that resulted in 963 Canberrans avoiding hospitalisation.
Data on PACER callouts contributed to the Belconnen location of the Safe Haven Cafe as it had shown the area is experiencing high demand for mental health services.
The recent ACT Budget included an allocation of $14 million for mental health and community healthcare. More than $40 million will also allow for the addition of 10 acute mental health inpatient beds at Canberra Hospital over four years.