Clare Graf-Mitchell has suffered from bipolar disorder and PTSD for most of her adult life and like many, she’s found the pandemic particularly tough.
“I didn’t know what my life was going to look like from one week to the next,” Ms Graf-Mitchell told AAP.
The 34-year-old public health student had bouts of anxiety as Melbourne went into and out of lockdowns, and also experienced a severe depressive episode.
“I was worried I’d be ending up in hospital where there might be a COVID outbreak,” she said.
Ms Graf-Mitchell has long experience with the mental health system, and welcomed extra spending by the Victorian government announced on Tuesday.
Another $22 million will be spent on mental health, with $13 million of that to go to establishing 20 temporary mental health centres across Victoria, with 90 dedicated clinicians.
Money will also go to parenting programs for children experiencing anxiety, as well as to Indigenous organisations.
“I think the big thing is mid-level services for people who need help, but are not yet at crisis point,” Ms Graf-Mitchell said.
Mental Health Minister James Merlino said some Victorians had been really struggling, “whether that’s through isolation, financial stress, illness and indeed loss of life or loss of a loved one”.
He said more young people suffering from eating disorders, suicidal ideation, and self-harm had been arriving in hospital emergency departments.
“We know that the pandemic has had an impact, on top of what was already a broken mental health system,” Mr Merlino said.
Orygen youth mental health service director Patrick McGorry welcomed the funding, but told the news conference the mental health system had been in crisis for years.
“The issues that people are raising about hospitals being overwhelmed with COVID cases, that’s our daily life in mental health, it always had been,” Professor McGorry said.
He said young people with life-threatening mental health conditions were being turned away daily from hospital emergency departments, in a mental health “shadow pandemic”.
The opposition described the extra government money as a bandaid solution, and called for support for its plan to have 2000 provisional psychologists paid to work in schools.
In February, the final report by the royal commission into the state’s mental health system found there were critical shortages in the sector, and made 65 recommendations.
The last state budget included $3.8 billion in mental health funding.
Meanwhile, data from the state’s Coroners Court shows there have been fewer suicides in Victoria compared with this time last year.
The figures show 439 people died by suicide from the start of 2021 until August 31, a reduction from the same period in 2020, when the toll was 493.
However, there has been a slight increase in suicides in young women, with eight people aged under 18 taking their own lives.
The report cautions there may be short-term fluctuations in the data.
The Coroners Court investigates all suspected suicide deaths and releases figures each month to raise awareness.
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