Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic), the state’s peak body for young people and the youth sector, welcomes the Liberal Nationals’ commitment to boost mental health supports to young people in regional areas by funding grants for a new headspace outreach program.

The proposal would provide $1.14 million in grants over four years for headspace to provide outreach services to communities in regional Victoria and Melbourne.

YACVic welcomes this additional proposed investment into youth mental health services. We are pleased that this responds to issues highlighted in our plan for building a better Victoria for young people, #vicyouth2020, particularly the need for increased access to services in rural areas. However, while the proposed grants are a good first step, we remain concerned that the amount may be insufficient to ensure an adequate level of outreach is provided across the state.

The real cost of meaningful and comprehensive rural outreach is unavoidably high. While we await further details about the outreach initiative proposed by the Liberal Nationals, we would counsel that a meaningful outreach program would provide rurally isolated young people with the opportunity to access mental health support in their local area. It would allow them to seek help within a week of when they require it. It would allow them to not have to worry about travel costs, public transport timetables, or asking mum or dad to drive them to an appointment. It would also make clear, and uphold, the actual amount of funded hours the outreach was available within a particular community.

YACVic’s Rural initiative has met with thousands of young people all around Victoria, as well as their families and the services that support them. We know that rural and regional young people face barriers when it comes to accessing mental health support services. For many rurally- and regionally isolated young people, there are no accessible mental health professionals available in their community.

In order to access a mental health professional, these young people need to travel long distances, which sometimes means an adult will have to drive them as there is no realistic public transport options. Alternatively, some may use online or telehealth facilities (not always ideal or viable for a young person in distress) – or else they don’t get help at all.

The current situation around youth mental health support in rural and regional Victoria is serious, and in order to make a change we need to see a range of significant commitments to provide a comprehensive program to address the mental health and wellbeing of all young people.  

We commend the Nationals Member for Lowan and Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Emma Kealy, and the Liberal Nationals commitment to additional outreach services, and note this is one of several ingredients necessary to improve and support young people’s good mental health.  We encourage the Liberal Nationals, and all parties, to see this is a foundation to build upon with further necessary commitments. These include supporting whole-of-community approaches that train young people and adults in recognising and responding to signs of ill mental health, and normalise community discussions and care of mental health. In addition, a commitment to increase the number of trained, supported youth workers around the state is also vital, so young people have professionals to help them access outreach services and continue to support them when those services are not present.

We continue to call on all sides of politics to commit to a range of appropriate and accessible youth health and wellbeing supports to make Victoria the best state it can be for all young people.