Mental Health Minister James Merlino has confirmed almost $60 million of cruel cuts to mental health programs that were designed to help struggling Victorians recover from the pandemic.
Despite growing evidence of Victoria’s deepening shadow pandemic, the Minister told Parliament’s Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) on Monday that the axed programs were ‘no longer required’.
Among the axed services are supports delivered through Beyond Blue, Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA), Lifeline and Kids Helpline.
Support services have recently reported still being overwhelmed by demand from Victorians seeking help to deal with the lasting effects of six Labor lockdowns and years of isolating uncertainty.
Shadow Minister for Mental Health Emma Kealy said it beggared belief Labor had made funding cuts when the experts say these programs are still needed to help Victorians get their mental health back on track.
“Calls to crisis helplines like Kids Helpline, Lifeline and Beyond Blue continue to soar on the back of the long-term harm of uncertainty and lockdowns, and that more parents are experiencing perinatal anxiety and depression than ever before,” Ms Kealy said.
“Prior to COVID, 1 in 5 mums and 1 in 10 dads experienced perinatal anxiety and depression, but PANDA data shows this rate has increased to about 1 in 3 mums and 1 in 7 dads.
“Staff shortages mean Victorian kids are waiting two months just to get an appointment with a mental health practitioner, and Labor’s plan to provide mental health support for Victorian students who have suffered increased anxiety and stress in the pandemic is still years away.”
Ms Kealy said the cuts came in a Labor Budget that confirmed wasteful cost blowouts on major projects had reached $28.1 billion.
“The Royal Commission slammed the consequences of neglect under Labor governments that have been in power for 19 of the past 23 years, but we know the problems are now worse as a result of the pandemic,” Ms Kealy said.
“There has never been a more important time to ensure that support services retain their funding so that they can reach the overwhelming number of people who need it.
“Cutting funding and restricting access to support services just shifts the problem to our overwhelmed hospital Emergency Departments. It’s no way to support Victorians to recover and rebuild.”
Emma Kealy MP
Shadow Minister for Mental Health