Teresa Jayet, CEO at Mallee Family Care, and her team know too well the toll of COVID-19 on the mental health of communities they serve across a huge area of northwest Victoria, southwest NSW and the Riverland region of South Australia.
Based in Mildura, Teresa told Mental Health Victoria this week that the pandemic and its associated lockdowns have, simply, "impacted everyone" in the border communities region, where multiple state lockdowns have created huge upheaval and anxiety.
The service has seen an increase in enquiries from parents who are worried about their children, and from young people themselves, particularly those in Year 11 and 12, for whom this time is "extraordinarily difficult".
It's seeing need rise in older members of the community and emerging out of its community legal service and financial counselling programs, with deep concerns about family violence.
So she is relieved that Mallee Family Care has been selected to offer one of 20 new 'pop-up' mental health and wellbeing services to be rolled out across Victoria under a new $21 million mental health support package announced by Deputy Premier James Merlino on September 14.
To be up and running within weeks, the new pop-ups will respond to the mental health care needs of children, young people, adults, families and small business owners.
Critically they will also seek to intervene much earlier in people's issues, for their sake and also to reduce the burden on emergency departments, where tragically too many people end up, looking for crisis support because they couldn't seek or find help earlier.
With this program, the Victorian government has recognised that the ongoing toll of the pandemic on Victorians means we cannot wait for Royal Commission reforms to roll-out over the next several years, including the much needed expansion of the mental health workforce in rural and regional areas.
So for the short-term, amid such need, one of the most practical ways to provide support is to mobilise Victoria's large network of community health and mental health organisations.
Organisations like Mallee Family Care are by their nature deeply embedded in local communities, and can respond to community needs, provided they are given the financial resources to do so.
Teresa says telehealth services have been a vital support through the pandemic, but the new pop-ups mean more people in more communities can get the face-to-face support that they prefer.
For her community, it will mean that people in need can walk in off the street or cold call and, even if Mallee Family Services isn't the right service for their needs, it can make the right referrals.
Most importantly, it will mean people will get to speak to someone immediately about their mental health and wellbeing, she said.
Knowing the ongoing toll in regional areas, I was also pleased this week to learn the Victorian government is rolling out projects to support the mental health of farmers across Victoria.
It announced that programs will be run from the Bass Coast to Buloke, from the Gippsland Lakes to the Grampians, under the two year Resilient Farming Communities Project.
It's time for the federal government to dig deeper.Angus Clelland
They will be run across 11 council areas, with support to include outreach services, on-farm health workshops, wellbeing plans for rural communities, the delivery of resilience programs in secondary schools, and mental health first aid training.
All of this only underlines how important it is to grow the state's mental health workforce, and quickly! There are simply not enough mental health nurses, psychologists, occupational therapists, social workers and other professionals to go around.
We've been deeply grateful at how responsive the Victorian government has been on mental health this year. But this is a national problem that cannot be solved by Victoria alone.
This time last year we gave the federal government top marks for its rapid establishment of the 'HeadtoHelp' support program through the Victorian primary health networks.
A year on, the need is even greater, in the Mallee and beyond.
It's time for the federal government to dig deeper.
For support, contact: Lifeline http://lifeline.org.au: 13 11 14; Beyondblue: http://beyondblue.org.au: 1300 22 4636.