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The Andrews government has pledged $870 million to reform Victoria's "broken" mental health system that has been strained even further under the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mental Health Minister James Merlino said the new funding was the start of a response to the challenges in the mental health system that even before the pandemic the government admitted was not "fit for purpose".
Daniel Andrews and James Merlino making the announcement on Thursday.Credit:Joe Armao
"We have got the twin wicked challenge of a mental health system that is broken, and this year dealing with the impact of a global pandemic, and all the stress and isolation, being apart from loved ones and the impact on people's mental health," Mr Merlino said.
"So now, more than ever, we need to invest in reform in a mental health system."
The multimillion-dollar package includes $492 million for 120 mental health beds in Geelong, Epping, Sunshine and Melbourne, bringing the total number of beds announced this year to 144.
There will be $18.9 million for 35 acute treatment beds for mental health patients in public and private hospital, as well as $21.4 million to expand the Hospital Outreach Post-Suicidal Engagement (HOPE) service.
The government will invest $2.2 million to begin designing the Victorian Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing to bring together experts including researchers, academics, and people who have experienced the system firsthand.
The centre was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System's interim report.
A further $7.7 million will be provided to hire more mental health staff while $3.1 million will go towards supporting general nurses to retrain as mental health nurses.
Mr Merlino said the government did not want to wait until the royal commission provided its final report in February to begin rebuilding the mental health sector.
"We aren't going to wait, and we can't wait," he said.
"This is a massive mental health budget, and a down payment, if you like, as we prepare for the final report of the royal commission next year."
The government said it would get to work immediately to begin rolling out the different initiatives.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the mammoth funding announcement would benefit every Victorian, not just those living with mental health issues.
"One in five of us will experience a mental illness this year, but five in five of us benefit from a better mental health system," the Premier said.
"Just like physical health, if someone in your family is unwell and doesn't get the care they need, doesn't get the support they need, they've got a system that almost works against them – that doesn't just impact that person as a patient or client, it affects everyone in your household and by extension every single one of us."
Mr Merlino said there continued to be a sharp increase in the number of Victorians seeking mental health support amid the pandemic and the state's prolonged lockdown to contain the second coronavirus wave.
But the latest figures from the Coroners Court shows, the suicide rate remained relatively stable. There were 580 deaths in the 12 months to October 31, compared with 600 the previous year and 587 the year prior.
In its interim report tabled in the State Parliament in November last year, the royal commission found years of underinvestment in the sector led to a system that "catastrophically failed to live up to expectations" and recommended Victorians pay a new tax to fund the sector.
But on Thursday, Mr Merlino conceded "now is not the time" to introduce a mental health tax in light of the COVID-19 recession.
If you or anyone you know needs support, call Kids Helpline 1800 551 800, Lifeline 13 11 14, Mensline 1300 789 978 or Beyond Blue's coronavirus mental wellbeing support service on 1800 512 348.
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