Hospital admissions for mental health treatment have increased in Ballarat in the public and private system.
Data from the Victorian Agency for Health Information notes a slight increase in admissions for mental health-related treatment, while data from Medibank indicates a 22 per cent rise in admissions in the 2018-19 financial year - almost 150, with women admitted at almost double the rate of men.
The statistics at Ballarat Health Services, from the first quarter of the 2018-19 financial year, show an increase in bed occupancy rates for adult mental health services - from 89.62 per cent, down to 85.16 per cent in the fourth quarter, then back up to 90.16 per cent in the first quarter of the 2019-20 financial year.
HAVE YOUR SAY BELOW
Medibank's chief executive Craig Drummond told The Courier actions needed to be taken now to ensure people got adequate care across the private and public systems.
"There's a range of issues - clearly life today is stressful, clearly there is significantly more awareness of mental health issues, clearly the public hospital system is under significant strain, and the resourcing in the public system for mental health is very poor," he said.
"There are very few beds, and few beds available in the public hospital system, so we are seeing more mental health presentations come into the private system.
"They're worrying (statistics), but people are thinking about it."
He said these were often "lengthy, expensive" hospital procedures.
"These are inpatient admissions, where you've been admitted into a private hospital," he explained.
"Typically, you would be there for 20 days, that's the standard, it's a lengthy process and $13 to $15,000 per stay.
"It's likely to be an ongoing issue that will hopefully receive community and home-based care rather than ongoing admissions to hospital."
The situation was likely to worsen, he added, as mental health conditions became more destigmatised and more people began seeking help - the system will need serious reform, and other factors will need to be addressed..
"I think there's a slightly older demography in this community, and one of the issues that I think is a real concern for Ballarat is you've got a fairly substantial proportion of your population that have got chronic conditions," he said.
"I think the broader community - and I don't want to preach - needs to focus as much as it can more on those issues around preventative healthcare"
One aspect will be ensuring people who do not have private healthcare can still access the services they need.
"People who can afford private healthcare, private psychiatric treatment, should be seeking and using those private resources and staying out of the public system," he said.
"That should be a concern for all Australians, that people that can't afford that healthcare have got access to good public health resources."
The Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System has released an interim report, which notes the dire state of the public system, and includes several recommendations like expanding the Hospital Outreach Post-suicidal Engagement (HOPE) program and clinical outreach services, extra graduate placements and scholarships to address workforce challenges, and state-wide rollout of Aboriginal health and wellbeing teams.
The Royal Commission's final report is due in October this year.
Here in Ballarat, the state government has invested $6 million to build a new 12-bed Prevention and Recovery Centre (PARC) to provide community-based options for people who are becoming unwell, or who are in the early stages of recovery from an acute mental illness and need a short period of additional support. This is due to be completed in 2020.
A BHS spokesperson said access to appropriate healthcare is always important.
"As the Royal Commission is highlighting, year on year we see an increase in demand for our mental health services which is the trend across the state," the spokesperson said in a statement.
"We welcome a stronger emphasis on a therapeutic model of care in the community as it is considered to be beneficial for consumers, more so than traditional case management models of care.
"New suicide prevention initiatives including a major expansion of our Hospital Outreach Post-suicidal Engagement (HOPE) program will particularly focus on areas of need in our community."
Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley said in a statement the "strain" on the system was "deeply concerning".
"Victorians are left on waiting lists, when the last thing they can afford to do is wait. This needs to change - that's why the Royal Commission is so desperately needed and we will implement every recommendation made," he said.
"Whether we've experienced it ourselves or watched a loved one suffer - every Victorian has felt the impacts of mental health. As a community, a state and a government, we need to work together to fix the system."
If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support, phone Lifeline 13 11 14.
Help is also available, but not limited, via the following organisations. The key message is you are not alone.
- Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au
- Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467
- Mens line: 1300 789 978 or mensline.org.au
- Survivors of Suicide: 0449 913 535
- Relationships Australia: 1800 050 321
- headspace Ballarat (for 12-25s and parent support): 5304 4777
- Soldier On: 1300 620 380
- Ballarat Community Health: 5338 4500
- QLife: 1800 184 527 (Support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people)
- Family violence: 1800 RESPECT
Have you signed up to The Courier's variety of news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.