Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has called for Canberrans to have more certainty as the ACT starts to chart its path out of the debilitating COVID-19 lockdown.
Lifeline Canberra is reporting a 40 per cent increase in demand for crisis services as the ACT lockdown takes a heavy toll on a "fatigued" population. As a response, and mindful of experiences in other jurisdictions, the federal and ACT governments are joining forces to provide more than $5 million in urgent mental health support, particularly for struggling young people.
There are measures worth $2.5 million announced by the federal government, to "get ahead of the curve" according to Mr Hunt, while a complementary ACT mental health package worth more than $2.5 million is expected to be unveiled by the Barr government on Tuesday.
In an interview with The Canberra Times, Mr Hunt suggested overwhelmed, lonely and frustrated Canberrans should know the path out of lockdown, while receiving support.
"I think people who are facing significant mental health challenges need two things they need hope and as much certainty as possible. Hope and certainty," he said.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has been under pressure to detail the ACT's roadmap out of lockdown.
With ongoing significant community transmission, the current lockdown has been extended until at least October 15 and at home learning for schools will continue for at least another fortnight.
Mr Barr said it was prudent to wait until the national average for full vaccinations hit 80 per cent before making major changes.
Mr Hunt said NSW was seeking to provide certainty with its roadmap detailing greater freedoms for the fully vaccinated and he said the ACT would get there as well.
"I think that's beginning to make a difference," Mr Hunt said of the NSW experience.
"Currently, the cases in NSW, the curve has flattened.
"It's certainly not over yet. There's a long way to go, but in the ACT now people are looking for that hope and they're looking for that certainty so that is a very important part of it."
The Minister is full of praise for the vaccination efforts in the ACT.
First doses are just shy of 82 per cent and second doses are 56.4 per cent, while every age group 40 and above is almost at, or above, 90 per cent vaccinated.
"Yeah, they're doing an amazing job," Mr Hunt said.
But the lockdown is taking its toll. Lifeline Canberra has outlined a significant 40 per cent increase in demand for its crisis support services as the ACT enters a sixth week in lockdown.
"The effects of this lockdown, the effects of the pandemic over the last couple of years, certainly will continue to play out over the years to come," Carrie-Ann Leeson, Lifeline Canberra CEO told The Canberra Times.
"People definitely are fatigued, overwhelmed, feeling helpless, and a sense of hopelessness."
"We've seen a large increase in the number of relationship breakdowns and relationship stresses, and grief and loss associated with individuals who are unable to see family and friends attend funerals, get married, travel."
The Morrison government's additional $2.5 million includes $1.6 million to establish a Head to Health pop-up mental health clinic and the fast tracking of a phone assessment and referral service.
There is also $400,000 for eating disorder services, $320,000 to headspace for additional youth support, $150,000 for the Stepping Stones under 12s trauma program and $100,000 to Meridian ACT for services for LGBTI+ people.
"It reflects the needs of the community," he said. "We know from lockdowns elsewhere, that, once you have home schooling, many kids feel isolated, many parents feel overwhelmed and many elderly feel sometimes very, very lonely."
"And so what we wanted to do with the ACT is get ahead of it. When the long extension of the ACT lockdown we determined immediately that the ACT would need a package."
The ACT government has welcomed the federal investment.
"Canberra's community mental health services have been key to keep people safe and supported throughout lockdown and this funding is part of a fuller package to boost resources in the sector and help more people," the ACT Mental Health Minister Emma Davidson said.
"This funding is very welcome, appreciated and complementary to the ACT Government's COVID-19 mental health support package which will make community services even more accessible to Canberrans."
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