Orygen’s executive director, Professor Patrick McGorry, said the government package, which includes expanded Medicare-subsidised telehealth services for all Australians, was essential for all young people wanting to access mental health services via Orygen, and the headspace centres it operates, during COVID-19.
“With the advent of COVID-19 we need to work very differently; we have to work around the virus,” Professor McGorry said. “The use of telehealth services and telephone support is vital as we continue to support young people through this period.
“At Orygen we are also working quickly to scale-up our digital mental health support platform – which provides instant access to mental health clinicians while also integrating with the face-to-face care young people may also be receiving – with a view to rolling it out nationally as soon as possible.”
Professor McGorry said it was reassuring to see support for people’s mental health acknowledged early in the government’s response to COVID-19. “Demand for mental health services will only increase as this crisis builds, so ensuring the appropriate infrastructure for delivering mental health support online and at scale is of great importance,” he said. “There will certainly be a need for a second, and possibly subsequent, release of government funding to respond to the surging demand for mental health care.”
The government’s current funding package will allow Australians to access mental health support in their own home using their telephone, or video conferencing features such as FaceTime, to connect with GP services, mental health treatment, services to people with eating disorders, and a range of other supports.
Professor McGorry said providing people with the opportunity to access health services while at home was an important strategy for reducing community spread of the virus.
“I’ve been working in Australian mental health care for nearly 40 years and I’m really concerned at the effect this COVID-19 crisis is going to have on all of us,” Professor McGorry said. “It’s not just going to affect people with obvious mental illness; it’s a major threat to everyone’s mental health. Those sources of threat include losing our normal sense of security, having to confront the fear of the virus itself, and losing a lot of other things in our lives such as the opportunity to exercise, to mix with other people, to have a social role, and to have a professional role, or a work role. These are really big challenges we’re all facing.
“On the other hand, we’ve come through these sorts of challenges before. People are generally very resilient, but they do need the right sort of support and the right sort of professional help when facing these sorts of times.
“Today’s announcement by the government will help ensure that help is available, and will give those of us working in mental health the best chance of supporting people who develop mental health challenges or crises during this period.”