WIMMERA residents needing mental health care can wait up to 12 weeks for counselling assistance, a health service says.
Grampians Community Health provides support for people with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
It covers Horsham and Ararat rural cities, and Northern Grampians, Yarriambiack, West Wimmera, Hindmarsh and Pyrenees shire councils.
There are 73 people on the service's generalist counselling waitlist across its intake region.
Grampians Community Health healthy lifestyles manager Caleb Lourensz said the service always had a high demand for its generalist counselling services.
"Because of this demand, our wait lists can be anywhere between six to 12 weeks depending on the amount of referrals the generalist counselling program has received," he said.
"It does fluctuate. In times when we don't have as many referrals, then there will, of course, be a shorter wait list. Ideally we we wouldn't have any wait list, but that's not the case.
"We are implementing a demand management process which is outlined by the state government in relation to referrals and allocating clients to workers. We would love to see some additional funding in that space; there is definitely a need.
"We only have one full-time generalist counsellor at each of our three sites - Horsham, Stawell and Ararat."
Mr Lourensz encouraged people to reach out to other services while waiting for appointments.
"Because we're not a crisis centre, we encourage people to call a hotline such as Lifeline. It's not always ideal, but they are still trained professionals that people can talk to," he said.
"If they're an immediate risk, then heading up to the hospital and presenting at the emergency ward is the ideal thing. Another option is getting a mental health plan from your GP.
"There is obviously a need and we do the best we can to provide a timely response, but at times it can be difficult. We acknowledge that it can add more pressure for people needing help."
Grampians Community Health business services manager Mia Fraser said the service, alongside Ballarat Community Health, had designed the Connecting2Community program to provide support.
"This program is great because it pairs a person with a peer worker who has lived experience with a mental health issue, and the peer worker helps the person to identify and achieve their goals, big or small as they work together towards a positive future," she said.
Headspace is another Wimmera service that offers a service - but has wait times.
It provides free counselling and support to people aged 12 to 25, and discusses issues such as relationships, drug and alcohol, mental health, bullying, anxiety and depression.
Horsham headspace manager Liz Rowe said the service's waitlist fluctuated depending on demand.
"Due to current demand there is a short wait for counselling services following an initial assessment," she said.
"This is largely due to a lack of qualified professionals in the area. We have been working to recruit a clinical lead for some time but, as in most rural centres, it has been extremely difficult to attract professionals to the Wimmera."
Ms Rowe said people could access immediate support through eheadspace, which is available 16 hours a day between 9am and 1am, seven days a week.
"Eheadspace provides free online and telephone support and counselling for young people, their family and friends," she said.
"People can talk one-on-one with an eheadspace clinician via online chat, email or over the phone. Young people can also join group chats which cover a variety of helpful topics.
"Our telehealth service provides opportunities for young people, who have no access to public transport, to access mental health services through online appointments.
"The service is already set up in schools in Donald, Murtoa, Warracknabeal and Balmoral. We continue to work towards rolling out telehealth in more rural schools across the Wimmera.
"Following the roll-out in schools we hope to get telehealth set up in community centres across the region."
Member for Western Victoria Stuart Grimley said more funding and services were needed on a long-term basis.
"We have raised the issue with the government in Parliament, and in particular, the wait times for organisations such as headspace," he said.
"They have something like a six-week wait time, which is unacceptable. So we are always advocating on behalf of rural and regional Victoria to have those services at the forefront."
He said the approach to mental health care funding needed to be holistic.
"It needs to be that all encompassing approach to mental health in particular, because a lot of things come with mental health - it could be homelessness, it could be drug addiction, it could be crime," he said.
"So we need to make sure all those services are offered to the person and the families to support them through their struggles."
- If you, or someone you know needs support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Help on 1800 55 1800 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
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