Victorian Government extends HOPE Program to Shepparton

By Tara Whitsed

Victoria’s Hospital Outreach Post-suicidal Engagement program will be rolled out at Goulburn Valley Health this year.

Mental Health Minister Martin Foley announced the program’s extension from metropolitan Melbourne into regional centres such as Shepparton this week.

He said the program would ensure those at risk of suicide who attended a clinical setting would be followed up by a service provider within 72 hours of presentation.

Mr Foley said the announcement came after a recommendation made by the royal commission into Victoria’s mental health system, which was released alongside eight other interim recommendations recently.

“Our mental health system at a statewide level is facing increased demands and stresses,” he said.

He said far too often people who engaged with the mental health system, after making a suicide attempt, would go on to commit suicide afterwards and the HOPE program aimed to combat this.

“Well over half of the people who took their own lives had engaged with the healthcare system,” he said.

Mr Foley said the royal commission had found suicide rates in regional communities were 40 per cent higher than in metropolitan Melbourne.

“Seven hundred and twenty Victorians took their own lives in 2018,” he said.

“That is more than three times our road toll.”

GV Health divisional clinical director for mental health Ravi Bhat said evidence had shown the HOPE program had made a difference to the rates of suicide, which were at alarming levels.

“Suicide rates … are far too high,” Dr Bhat said.

“(It) can deeply affect so many people’s lives.”

Blue Voices community advocate Ian Muchamore spoke about the impact suicide had had on his life after his housemate and friend took his life nine years ago.

“I only learnt after the fact that he had previously attempted to take his own life,” Mr Muchamore said.

GV Health chief executive Matt Sharp said the program was a new service for the hospital.

“We always welcome programs that support people during their most vulnerable (time),” he said.

The program is already in place in 12 locations across the state and more than 2500 people have been assessed and supported so far. It will begin in Shepparton during the next financial year.

The royal commission will hand down its final report in October.

● If you or someone you know is in crisis or needs support, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.