Derek Fagan, Mental Health and Family Violence Program Manager at EACH (Southern Melbourne region), caught up with Suzy Goldsmith (FCVic) to discuss the recently launched Mental Health & Wellbeing Hubs, and how financial counsellors can engage with and benefit from the Hubs.
The Victorian Government is supporting Victorians to find free mental health help close to where they live, with the establishment of over twenty Mental Health & Wellbeing Hubs across the state. Support services are available to anyone who needs it, providing the first step to better mental health. Support is also available for families, friends and carers of people who are experiencing mental health issues.
Mental Health & Wellbeing Hubs are equipped to help with a range of different issues, including lowered mood, anxiety, substance use or addiction, or any distress people may have. Help is also available via the hubs to support people to address life stressors such as homelessness, financial difficulties, and social isolation. Support workers can assess people’s needs, help develop strategies to cope, and provide direct links and pathways to other local health and social support services, such as financial counsellors.
Suzy: Can you describe the Wellbeing Hubs approach and philosophy for us?
Derek: The Mental Health & Wellbeing Hubs are set up to fill the gaps that we see people falling through, particularly those we have seen highlighted by the COVID pandemic, but also before that. The Hubs are looking to address the stressors we see impacting people every day, and particularly for people who have not been able to access mental health or mental wellbeing support.
We know that mental health really does have a stigma for a lot of people, so we are focusing on changing language around mental health and wellbeing, especially in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, particularly for newly arrived migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and for people in faith-based organisations.
The Hubs are set to provide a preventative approach – a wellbeing strategy – rather than acute crisis care for mental health, and this approach takes on a holistic lens. For example, you’re experiencing the stresses of the pandemic financially, which may lead onto other dynamics being impacted – perhaps your family, perhaps your workplace. There is an emphasis on collaboration across services, this isn’t a handball and forget about it approach – we go on the journey alongside the participant.
Can you tell us a bit more about how this journey works?
Sure. You might have someone who comes in at first to discuss their small business and the associated financial woes – they are struggling to pay the mortgage and wages – and during that conversation, as the relationship is built, that they start to open up about their mental wellbeing – their anxiety, their inability to sleep, drinking too much, maybe in breaking down of relationships – and we can identify the services that can help and assist with a warm referral, getting them the most appropriate care, faster.
Is it the same approach at each of the 23 Mental Health & Wellbeing Hubs across Victoria?
The philosophy remains the same, however the exact approach and the materials used will be tailored depending on the community needs – for example, written material will be translated to serve the different CALD communities at each Hub, so we can appropriately support that cohort. We recognise that ‘wellbeing’ is a broad term and can mean different things for different people, and we have seen that financial wellbeing is a big driver for people engaging with us.
We are looking to reach the underserved CALD communities who may not have engaged with these services before by breaking down the barriers – language, cultural – and the stigma around mental health and wellbeing, and often using financial conversations as the starting point is an easy beginning. Additionally, this is a service anyone can come in and access, without the restrictions of access that some services have, like having to hold a Medicare card, needing a GP referral and so on.Just like financial counselling – no visa restrictions, self-referral pathways.
Yes. We’re trying to remove the barriers that prevent people from accessing mental health and wellbeing services, and we do that by having less restriction on who can access us and how. This means people who are facing months-long waiting lists for some services can walk in, or call in, today and start a conversation immediately about what can be done to help. We hear of people who find support services difficult to engage with, or the waiting time is too long, and the trust deteriorates, and they end up saying ‘Why would I bother, when I’ve tried, and it’s failed?’. The Hubs are here to change that scenario.
Being immediately available is good for people who may be in the early stages of distress – sometimes people need to just vent and then have a few simple actions to be accountable for, like ‘call Centrelink’ or ‘contact financial counsellor’. Just knowing someone has listened to them, and they are supported and accountable to these few actions helps and gets them out of feeling ‘frozen’ and unable to engage.It sounds like this is the available ‘door’ that people can walk through, and then if other doors are more appropriate, you support them in that journey. Either way, you’ll hold space for them regardless, and are available to engage with without delay.
Absolutely. That’s been a service gap for some time, and now it’s being addressed.
Can you tell us about the systemic work being done through the Hubs? Gathering data and insights to refine this and other services?
As the Hubs are in their early days, data and narratives are being meticulously gathered to refine the structure of the Hubs in the next 3, 4, 5 years and serve the communities engaging with us most appropriately.
How can financial counsellors refer a client to a Wellbeing Hub?
The quickest way to warm refer is to fill in a referral form through the Partners in Wellbeing (PiW) website (note, there are three referral forms based on regions, but don’t worry if you are unsure which to use – PiW will redistribute to the closest service); they refer your enquiry to the closest Wellbeing Hub and the client will be contacted as soon as possible, usually in under 24 hours.
What happens when a client self-refers, and calls the phone number?
Their call is taken by an intake team who will make some notes – for example, what is causing you distress? Where are you from? How can we contact you? – and will send this information to the nearest practitioner, who then contacts the client. We aim for this contact to occur in less than 24 hours, as we want to avoid the waiting as we discussed earlier.
Can a financial counsellor be involved in a conversation with a Hub practitioner?
Absolutely, we can get an authority from the client and set up a collaborative meeting, either with or without the client present.
How might a financial counsellor benefit from a client visiting or engaging with a Mental Health & Wellbeing Hub?
If financial counsellors are hearing information from clients that leads them to being concerned about their mental health and wellbeing, and they are not being supported by services to address this, the Hubs may be a soft gateway to getting them better support from clinicians who can hold more space for them and reduce the burden on financial counsellors.
Particularly over the last two years, we are aware that vicarious trauma is getting passed on to the financial counsellors, financial capability workers and other peak body staff having to hear this information all the time about how traumatic the pandemic has been for their clients. The Hubs can help disperse the pressure on a financial counsellor by better supporting their clients in other areas of their lives.
What are some ‘red flags’ financial counsellors can watch out for in conversation with clients that might indicate a referral to a Mental Health & Wellbeing Hub would be beneficial?
Clients saying their anxiety and fears are escalating; mentioning they don’t have coping strategies; that they feel frozen and unable to process what is happening around them. They don’t have to have a ‘mental health issue’, they may just need someone to chat to and use as a sounding board to build a coping strategy and resistance.
Thank you so much for your time, Derek.
More information on the Mental Health & Wellbeing Hubs:
- VicGov website: coronavirus.vic.gov.au/mentalhealthhub
This website provides an overview of the hubs, a list of locations, contact methods and opening hours. It answers many FAQs, including information on accessing support in languages other than English.
- Bookings can be made via phone: Call 1300 375 330 (9am-10pm weekdays, and 9am-5pm weekends) to book an in-person or telehealth appointment.
- Support is also available through enquiry online via Partners in Wellbeing.
- Click here to download the campaign stakeholder pack.