After a joint appeal from health services in East Gippsland to help improve mental health services in this region, the Victorian Government has selected Bairnsdale as one of the sites to receive expanded suicide prevention services.
Last month the government announced a $59.4 million mental health package to respond to the unpreceded demand being placed on Victorians, and on our mental health system as a result of the devastating bushfires and now COVID-19.
Part of that package included almost $1 million to extend the statewide rollout of Hospital Outreach Post-Suicidal Engagement (HOPE) program to Bairnsdale, as well as Shepparton and Epping.
Coordinated in Gippsland by Latrobe Regional Hospital (LRH), HOPE is designed to engage people who present to hospital emergency departments or their GP following either a suicide attempt or suicidal ideation, and connect them with specialist mental health practitioners and resources.
In a joint letter to Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos and Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley written in February, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Victoria, the Board Chairs of Bairnsdale Regional Health Service, Gippsland Lakes Complete Health, Omeo District Health and Orbost Regional Health wrote they were concerned about the increased risk of suicide in East Gippsland following the trauma of the bushfires.
“The health services of East Gippsland recognize there are an array of gaps in the current mental health system,” the letter stated.
“We are acutely aware of the gap for following up for any suicide attempt. Unfortunately, we have witnessed firsthand in our region the gap where a HOPE service would make all the difference.”
Owen Connolly, Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at LRH and the Clinical Lead of Zero Suicide and HOPE projects, said the COVID-19 pandemic was increasing pressures and stress on people in this community in a similar way that the bushfires did.
“We fully expect that the impact of these traumatic events will bring about an increase in mental health issues in East Gippsland in the months and years ahead,” Connolly said.
While the details of what the HOPE expansion in Bairnsdale would look like are still in development, Connolly said the result would be more capacity to support people at risk of suicide.
“The HOPE suicide prevention program supports people following discharge from hospital and Emergency Departments that are identified as at-risk of suicide or self-harm, following assessment by mental health clinicians,” he said.
“The expansion of this service in Bairnsdale will ensure suicide prevention specialists are on hand to provide timely support for people in this area.”
Last year’s Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System found that the annual suicide rate was about 40 per cent higher in rural and regional areas of Victoria than in metropolitan Melbourne, but that these same rural and regional areas often had far less access to mental health support services.
For more information about HOPE and other suicide prevention initiatives in East Gippsland visit https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/mental-health/prevention-and-promotion/suicide-prevention-in-victoria