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    Uniting Wimmera chief Josh Koenig.

Uniting eyes school mental health collaboration

By Jessica Grimble 

Wimmera schools are awaiting details of a State Government program rollout aimed at boosting mental health awareness for primary students. 

The government announced last month a $200-million expansion of its ‘Mental Health in Primary Schools’ program to 1800 government and low-fee, non-government schools between 2023 and 2026. 

Every school will employ a mental health and wellbeing leader to support individual students, help teachers better identify and support at-risk students and build relationships and referral pathways to mental health services. 

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The program would have a presence, regardless of the size of the school. Details of the rollout are still under negotiation. 

Uniting Wimmera executive officer Josh Koenig said his organisation had noted an increase in demand for its services throughout the pandemic. 

“Staff on the ground – the consumer-facing staff members – have all maxed out their caseloads,” he said. 

“More and more people are seeking support. We can put that down to the pandemic, which has had a great impact on people, but the awareness of mental health illness is also front and centre for people now.” 

Mr Koenig welcomed the announcement for mental health and wellbeing leaders in schools. 

“We are pleased, as mental health providers, that mental health has such a focus and we’re seeing the fruition of recommendations of the Royal Commission,” he said. 

“This program is another really great resource for schools, being on the frontline. 

“We are seeing a lot of young people come in and to be able to recognise the early signs of any mental health distress... it will be a really great program. It’s also exciting to collaborate with schools as a referral point.”  

Mr Koenig said people could contact Uniting Wimmera, headspace Horsham or their general practitioner to seek support. 

“We do triage and in a case of high priority, we have means and ways to have sessions with them sooner rather than later,” he said. 

“Our team can help with navigation because we understand the complexities the system presents at times.” 

Wimmera Primary Care Partnership co-ordinated the delivery of mental health first-aid programs in the region. 

Former executive officer Geoff Witmitz, speaking to The Weekly Advertiser before the PCPs transitioned to a new model with Grampians Wimmera Southern Mallee Local Public Health Unit, said getting a fair share of funding for mental health support in the region was critical and a focus of many organisations. 

“Any initiative that goes into building understanding and awareness at an early stage is good,” he said. 

“It’s also about the ability to get help – as currently, our needs outweigh the depth of service available.” 

Ararat, Ararat North and Ararat West and Stawell, St Patrick’s and Stawell West primary schools were among 100 schools to pilot the program in partnership with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Melbourne University. Schools have reported improved mental health and wellbeing, and improved social, academic and vocational outcomes. 

• If you, or someone you know, needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 or headspace on 1800 650 890. In an emergency, call triple zero, 000.

The entire July 27, 2022 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire July 27, 2022 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!