Mental health funding boost in Vic schools

·2-min read

Every government and low-fee non-government primary school in Victoria will have mental health support workers on site under a $200 million plan.

Victoria's Mental Health in Primary School program will be rolled out statewide from 2023 in line with a royal commission's recommendations to expand the 100-school pilot, the state government announced on Tuesday.

The extra funding will be used to train and employ 1800 teachers as mental health and wellbeing leaders through the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and University of Melbourne by 2026.

"If we can identify and intervene early ... we can really improve the mental health and wellbeing of all children," Education Minister James Merlino told reporters.

Once ready, the teachers will start working in more than 400 Victorian primary schools each year in either a full- or part-time capacity, depending on the school's size.

The current program involves a combination of weekly half-hour lessons, as well as "triage lessons" for classroom and playground incidents.

Student issues are "coming out of the woodwork" after two years of COVID-19 disruptions, Fitzroy Primary School teacher and mental health and wellbeing leader Jasna Dixon said.

"I teach in (year) one, two. Those students have been really affected by lockdowns," she said.

"Just small emotional, social things ... stamina for workload. We have to incorporate a lot of brain breaks and movement breaks to support them and have their minds ready for learning."

Shadow mental health spokeswoman Emma Kealy said the scaling up of mental health support would come too late for children and implored the government to back reforms to unlock extra counsellors for schools.

"Delaying change for a further four years does nothing to help Victorian kids who are suffering poor mental health right now," she said.

It comes as a new Victorian mental health and wellbeing act is introduced in state parliament on Tuesday.

It will replace the Mental Health Act 2014 and establish regional mental health boards, the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission as an oversight body and new entity Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing Victoria.

Under the changes, the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission will replace the existing Mental Health Complaints Commissioner and allow Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing Victoria to partner with dedicated service providers such as Orygen.

Patrick McGorry, executive director of Orygen and former Australian of the Year, said the pandemic and lockdowns have exacerbated mental health concerns for Victorian children.

"We all know that young people have done it very tough during COVID," Prof McGorry said, noting there had been a 25 per cent increase in the need for care.

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