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Royal Commission highlights mental health services concerns for Outer Urban Growth Areas

2 March, 2021

There is a real sense of urgency around getting mental health services in place, close to home, in outer urban growth areas around Australia. The prominence of mental health problems in young people is a big concern for growing communities in the outer suburbs with their high proportion of young families. The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System presented its final report today, and it highlights issues that are felt in the growth areas of Melbourne – as well as growth areas around Perth, Adelaide and Sydney. The challenge in growth areas is that the social supports and infrastructure the Report identifies as necessary, don’t arrive until many years after the people do.

The Report talks about overhauling Victoria’s entire mental health system. We would love to think that hand in hand with that work is serious consideration of how we plan and design new suburbs so that the support structures that people need are built at the same time as the houses. The lag time between population growth and the health services being delivered, is evident in all states and we need better forward planning for new communities in growth areas.

The Report contains 65 recommendations to transform Victoria’s mental health system. Of particular interest to growth areas are the recommendations on creating new structures to support a sustainable mental health and wellbeing system; ensuring that treatment, care and support are available and accessible; and redesigning services to move from a crisis-driven model to a community-based one.

In Melbourne’s outer suburban areas, where more than a quarter of Victoria’s population lives, mental health services are currently woefully inadequate. Mental health services have not kept pace with the approximately 60,000 people moving to new developments every year in Melbourne.

Planning is key

  • We welcome the focus on collaboration and communication to identify need and act on it
  • In new suburbs, there is an unacceptable lag time between the data being collected and the decision being made to invest in mental health services.
  • The result is many young people slipping through the cracks, and when a service does arrive the caseload is overwhelming.

 

Young people are adversely affected

  • Growth areas have a high concentration of young people compared to other areas. In Victoria’s growth areas, we know that the few services that do exist have twice the national average caseload.

An early years focus is important

  • Growth areas are characterised by young growing families many of which are more vulnerable than ever due to the impact of COVID on employment, household finances and overall health stressors
  • Some outer urban growth areas councils have 100 babies born every week – so the urgency is real.

Place and regions

  • Growth areas have transitioned very rapidly from being regional to suburban. So while there is undoubtedly inadequate access to mental health services in regional areas, we can’t forget that just sometimes just a few kilometres away in the outskirts of metropolitan Melbourne, thousands of people live in new communities with no social infrastructure – not just health centres and hospitals, but without all the community networks  that take time to grow.
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