By Michelle Slater
Lifeline Gippsland pleaded for more government funding on the eve of the state budget with demand for crisis support almost doubling during the pandemic.
Lifeline Gippsland chief executive officer Michelle Possingham said extra funding was vital to keep providing counselling services, with calls to its crisis line jumping 40 per cent post-COVID.
“Our projections show these calls will remain steady. While we are concerned by these increasing calls, we are also happy people are reaching out when they need it,” Ms Possingham said.
“But from a practical perspective, more calls means we need more people on phones to take these calls, and this comes at an enormous cost to train and recruit volunteers.”
The plea comes as Member for Morwell Russell Northe put out a state budget wishlist, asking for an extra $5.5 million for Lifeline Victoria.
Ms Possingham said the extra funding would provide for more phones and IT, as well as professional support workers and qualified trainers at the Morwell centre.
“The funding we currently get is not enough to cover the costs we already had pre-pandemic,” she said.
“There is a misconception that because an organisation has a strong volunteer base, the cost of running is nil. Sitting behind our volunteers is a work force who make sure no one has to face their darkest moment alone.”
Ms Possingham said Lifeline had previously received state government COVID support packages, with ongoing financial support from local businesses and community donations.
“We would be lost without this support and would be potentially looking at closing our doors without this support,” she said.
Mental Health Minister James Merlino visited Lifeline Gippsland within the past six months to meet with its staff and understand the local issues.
Mr Merlino said last year’s state budget had delivered an “unprecedented investment” in mental health and this year’s would be no different.
It comes as the state government had announced a Gippsland Mental Health and Wellbeing Regional Body chairperson to guide government through the challenges faced by local communities.
Work is also underway to establish a new Local Adult and Older Adult Mental Health and Wellbeing Service in the Latrobe Valley by the end of 2022.
“Last year’s budget delivered, continuing the work we started to rebuild our state’s mental health system and deliver services that work for every Victorian, no matter where they live,” Mr Merlino said.