Local mental health services

A RANGE of counselling and other mental health services are available through Northern District Community Health, which is working closely with the hospitals and other district organisations to improve mental health in the community.

Community health's general manager of programs and services Alexia Stephens and credentialed mental health nurse Helen McKay outlined NDCH services on offer in a joint address to the Cohuna District Hospital annual meeting.

Services include youth, general, and alcohol & other drug counselling, rural withdrawal nurses, the long-term Partners in Recovery support program and educational initiatives such as a short "mental health first aid" course for the public.

Mental health is one of the priority areas identified in the government's Victorian Health and Well-being Plan, Mrs Stephens said, and as such was a focus of attention by the Gannawarra Local Agency Meeting - an initiative under which NDCH, Mallee District Aboriginal Services, Gannawarra Shire Council and the two shire hospitals meet monthly to work together on local issues.

Generally community understanding of mental health had improved a lot in recent years, mental health nurse, Helen McKay said. 

"But we're not out of the woods yet. Stigma remains."

One in five people will experience mental illness at some point in their lives, Mrs Stephens said, so the chance of community members coming into contact with it is quite high.

The 12-hour first aid course is aimed at reducing stigma by debunking untruths and establishing how common mental illness is while providing participants with some skills to identify and deal with mental health problems.

Contrary to some expectations, an analysis of mental health presentations to NDCH over the last two months had found that people were primarily seeking support for anxiety and depression, the meeting heard. 

Key to coping with these problems was connectedness, Ms McKay said, "with ourselves and with community".

The "Five Ways to Well-being" policy, which had been adopted by the GLAM group, was a simple set of guidelines to help people feel better or at least to stay connected enough to have someone to talk to, Ms McKay said.

The five actions on the checklist are to: Connect; Be Active; Take Notice, Keep Learning; and Give.

While NDCH focuses on prevention and on offering 9am-5pm services for those suffering mild to moderate mental illness, it also provides referrals to other services, including hospitals, where acute care is available. 

Community members seeking mental health support can contact NDCH on 5451 0200 or visit their GP.

The service's mental health first aid course, which has been well attended, will be run again in the new year.

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