IT'S almost six months to the day that Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia was going into a lockdown to protect us from the coronavirus.
We had a weekend to prepare for massive changes, closing hotels and clubs, gyms, cinemas and limits to gatherings of people outside and inside.
It's been a tough six months, but particularly for Victorians, so we have revelled in seeing rural and regional Victorians now lifting tough second wave restrictions. Melbourne is sure to follow.
But of course the impacts of those lockdowns will be with us for a lot longer than six months, including for those experiencing mental health issues.
First the good news. We are very fortunate that both the federal and Victorian governments were pursuing mental health reform and investment strategies when COVID-19 struck. This has meant that mental health has been a priority in the response and both governments have moved quickly - and cooperated in unprecedented ways.
I talked to the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 this week about how the initial shock of the pandemic saw a sharp decline in demand for mental health services.
People avoided their GPs, specialists, and emergency departments due to fear of the virus.
For the first time in years, many hospitals had spare beds in their in-patient units.
At the same time, there was strong growth in demand for mainstream telephone and online services including Lifeline, Beyond Blue and Kids Helpline.
But now, as expected, there has been a rebound in demand, this time from many people who had never before accessed the mental health system.
Therefore we have welcomed every new investment in the system, including this week's announcement that 15 new dedicated mental health clinics are opening in Victoria - another impressive collaboration between the state and federal governments.
These services are aimed at addressing the increase in demand for services from people who need more support than can be provided by a GP, but not so complex that they need to go to hospital. Six will be based in regional areas: Warragul, Sale, Bendigo, Wodonga, Sebastopol (near Ballarat) and Geelong (Norlane).
They are pop-up versions of the much larger permanent adult mental health centres which were announced last year, and are being set up in just four weeks.
That's in record time and a demonstration of what can be done.
The key will be ensuring they can ultimately be reached by everyone who needs them.
Friday also brought excellent news, with the federal government announcing an extension of Medicare funded telehealth services, due to expire this month, until the end of March 2021.
If we are to draw any silver linings from the pandemic, telehealth is one of them - it really has been a game changer, a "revolution in health delivery" as Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
No, it's not a panacea for the delivery of better mental health services. But it's a vital tool to be able to reach, particularly, into parts of Victoria that traditionally have been poorly serviced on mental health, and to make use of the resources that we have.
We would still urge the government to go further and make the telehealth provision permanent.
Not only that, we need to roll out a further phase of investment in state-wide specialist digital mental services staffed by multidisciplinary teams using telehealth to improve access to services out-of-hours and on weekends to reach into poorly serviced regional areas. But it's another great step forward.
And now the bad news. We are, like many of our member organisations, relieved that the federal government has extended the provision of the Jobkeeper and Jobseeker payments beyond September.
But we are deeply concerned about the impact on people's physical and mental health that the coronavirus supplement, paid as part of JobSeeker and to others receiving income support, will be reduced from next week and phased out at the end of the year.
That supplement turned the shockingly low Newstart payment of just $40 a day into a liveable income - changing lives.
These payments need to be viewed as critical mental health support as well as part of economic and employment programs.
Both the federal and Victorian governments have shown us in multiple ways that they can break through the barriers to deliver creative and targeted support during the pandemic.
We hope they can keep doing that as we emerge from lockdowns, because we know that it is not just the next six months that is as important as the last six months.
The consensus is that next year will be the "peak of the mental health wave" coming out of COVID-19 and that we will feel its effects for years.
Angus Clelland is chief executive of Mental Health Victoria.