Merger a boost for headspace: minister

A UNITED mental health service across the Border and North East will add greater weight to the call for a headspace centre in Albury-Wodonga, says the Victorian government.

Yesterday Mental Health Minister Mary Wooldridge launched the plan that from Monday will bring youth, adult and senior mental health services under Albury Wodonga Health.

It will involve 400 staff and add the high-care Kerferd Unit at Wangaratta to the stable.

By the end of next year it is expected to include mental health services provided in southern NSW, including Albury’s psychiatric unit, Nolan House.

Ms Wooldridge said the united service would give greater emphasis to the need for a headspace centre on the Border.

In the past five years the existing centres have helped almost 70,000 people deal with depression, anxiety and stress.

All are leading causes of youth suicide — the biggest killer of young people, responsible for one in four deaths.

“Having an integrated mental health service is a key to securing such a centre,” Ms Wooldridge said.

“And the work that is happening to bring in Albury and southern NSW helps with advocacy, co-ordination and communication that this community is not only ready, but that headspace is needed.

“It also shows that we will have a great base for clinical mental health services that can integrate with a headspace service that is often the front door to young people accessing mental health services.”

Ms Wooldridge said the provision of services would continue from the existing service hubs, and outreach services would also be maintained.

“Its size will make it one of the largest mental health services outside of metropolitan Melbourne,” she said.

“With this comes increased diversity of programs, the capacity to attract staff, particularly psychiatrists and other mental health specialists, and increased capacity to attract project funding and research opportunities.

“Aged, and child and adolescent mental health services have always been provided by one service across the region and now adult community mental health services will operate in the same way.”

Alan England, the clinical director overseeing Nolan House and the new regional service that includes the previously separate Wodonga, Wangaratta and Beechworth services, said it was the first step in tackling mental health as a region rather than individual communities.

“The time line for bringing Albury’s Nolan House on board isn’t clear, it is a tricky and difficult task to perform,” Dr England said.

“But we are looking at this as a region rather than as two different states; what we are trying to do is to provide the highest quality of mental services with the understanding that there is a groundswell of community support for that.”

Mary Wooldridge says the new regional approach to mental health strengthens the Border’s case for a headspace centre. Pictures: BEN EYLES

Mary Wooldridge says the new regional approach to mental health strengthens the Border’s case for a headspace centre. Pictures: BEN EYLES