Electorate officers across NSW are serving as makeshift mental health clinics in lieu of a formal health system straining under the weight of COVID-19.
Member for Barwon Roy Butler, a member of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (SFF) party alongside Orange MP Phil Donato, told parliament last week mental health conditions will strike about one in four people at some point in their lives.
He told ACM his office gets calls from people who turn out to have a mental health problem about four or five times in an average week.
"What tends to happen ... we get stuck on the phone on a totally unrelated issue," he said.
"What we try and do without embarrassing anyone, or putting any pressure on anyone, is try and connect them with someone who can help them with that."
... many people living with mental health conditions cannot get the support they need and mental health-related emergency department presentations continue to rise.Member for Barwon Roy Butler
As a former drug and alcohol counsellor, Mr Butler is better placed than most to be able to talk people down. But the system is straining under the pressure of a coronavirus-boosted caseload, he said.
"There is demand for more child and adolescent mental health services across the State," he told parliament on Wednesday.
"The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service based in Orange services five local health districts and 86 per cent of the State and routinely runs at 100 per cent capacity, with many people waiting to access this acute service."
Mr Butler was one of eight MPs who spoke on a parliamentary debate, sponsored by Mr Donato, calling for change.
Mr Donato condemned what he said was a policy of successive governments to slowly yet steadily withdraw medical services from country towns, centralising them in metropolitan areas.
"Despite investment from the government, the private sector and the community, many people living with mental health conditions cannot get the support they need and mental health-related emergency department presentations continue to rise," Mr Butler said.
"For people living in the bush, the difficulty in accessing mental health care is only compounded by the tyranny of distance."
The debate comes after the state government this week announced a $130 million roadmap to mental health recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
The funding boost will finance the largest mental health training program ever undertaken, arming 275,000 regular people with the ability to respond to the first signs of a mental health problem.
It will also provide more appointments for psychology and psychiatry services.
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