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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Damon Cronshaw

'Free help': Upper Hunter gets mental health service boost

Dan Repacholi said Upper Hunter residents will welcome a new Head to Health centre due to open at Muswellbrook in April. Picture by Marina Neil

A free mental health service will open in the Upper Hunter in April, providing support and referrals for people in distress.

The federally-funded Head to Health centre will be based at Muswellbrook, with outreach services provided to Singleton and Scone.

Federal data showed 24 people died from suicide in the Upper Hunter from 2018 to 2022, a rate of 17.1 per 100,000 people.

This was well above the rate in Australia [12.3], NSW [10.8] and Newcastle [12.7].

Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network said the not-for-profit organisation Social Futures had been selected from a competitive tender to provide the new centre.

Hunter MP Dan Repacholi said Upper Hunter residents had been calling for the service "for a long time".

"There has been a shortage of accessible and affordable mental services in Muswellbrook and the surrounding region," Mr Repacholi said.

"Previously people would travel to Singleton or Cessnock to access Headspace services."

He said the new centre would be a free walk-up service, with "no appointment necessary".

The network said the service was "a welcoming entry point" for people needing help "to find the right mental health support".

Head to Health is for adults aged 18 and over, who are experiencing emotional distress, crises, mental ill health and addiction.

It provides on-the-spot support, care and advice without the need for a referral. Families of those affected can also seek help there.

Primary health network CEO Richard Nankervis said Head to Health was "intended to complement, not replace or duplicate mental health services already provided in the community".

The centre was not designed to offer "long-term ongoing care".

Mr Nankervis said it would provide "evidenced-based care and family support to cover the short-to-medium term, based on clinical judgement and individual need".

He said the staff may include psychologists, counsellors, nurses, support workers, First Nations health workers and peer support specialists.

The service aimed to help people with mental health challenges "to be heard and find a path forward".

The federal government is establishing Head to Health services across the country, amid rising demand for mental health support and a shortage of services in the sector.

The Muswellbrook centre will open Monday to Friday from 12pm to 7pm and on weekends from midday to 4pm.

Head to Health 1800 595 212; Lifeline 13 11 14.

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