Occupational therapists welcome additional resources for Victoria’s mental health system

Occupational therapists, many of whom work in mental health, have welcomed the Victorian Government’s weekend announcement of an additional funding boost for the state’s mental health system.

The system will receive nearly $60 million in additional funding for much needed supports at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic, and the associated lockdown, are placing unprecedented pressure on the mental and emotional wellbeing of all Victorians, some of whom have pre-existing mental health issues. The government also announced the fast tracking of an additional 144 public acute mental health beds, in line with a recommendation by the Royal Commission into Victoria’s mental health system.

Occupational therapists play an important role in the support of those experiencing mental ill health, and have done so since the birth of the profession more than 100 years ago. Approximately 500 occupational therapists are currently employed within Victoria’s public specialist mental health services. They work throughout our mental health system in inpatient units, crisis teams, case management teams, intensive mobile teams, and continuing care units.

Occupational therapists also work in headspace, schools, private practice and many other public and private mental health services across Australia. They work in child and youth services, with adults and in aged care, as well as providing speciality services for clients with eating disorders, substance use disorders and early psychosis.

At university, occupational therapy students learn mental health skills, including assessments and interventions, and are taught by experts in the field. They finish their degree with graduating capabilities for employment in the mental health field.

Occupational therapists utilise many of the same therapies as other mental health professionals including cognitive behavioural therapy, motivational interviewing, psychotherapy, case management, acceptance and commitment therapy, social rhythm therapy, sleep hygiene, mental state and risks assessments, crisis management and psychoeducation. They also utilise their particular skills in sensory assessment and intervention, building routine, grading, activity analysis, promoting self esteem, and confidence building.

Occupational therapy is fundamentally goal-directed, rather than an exclusively talk-based service. It supports people through their recovery, skilling them up to manage their mental health as well as enabling them to achieve their life goals, resume their friendships, their family roles, and their vocations. Through focusing on grading tasks and activities, occupational therapists improve mental health and wellbeing by empowering people to undertake personally relevant and valued roles in life.

Occupational Therapy Australia (OTA) President, Associate Professor Carol McKinstry, said occupational therapists working in Victoria’s mental health system would welcome the additional investment in services at this critical juncture.

“At a time when all Victorians are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression, and people already diagnosed with a mental health condition are particularly at risk of relapse or prolonged recovery, the Victorian Government’s decision to invest more in our over-stretched mental health system and to fast track the rollout of new support services is a welcome development,” Professor McKinstry said.

“Occupational therapists appreciate the additional support for their clients and look forward to playing an ongoing and important role in these extremely difficult times.” 

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