VICTORIA'S state-funded school suicide prevention program is set to be axed in the middle of next year in a move that has shocked Professor Patrick McGorry, one the nation's most prominent psychiatrists.
The University of Melbourne's Prof McGorry said the move to shut down the School Focused Youth Service was "irresponsible" and would leave a bigger vacuum in mental health.
"This is just adding to the neglect," Professor McGorry said. "I'm just gobsmacked that the state government would be doing this. It just beggars belief. They seem to be cutting in the most critical areas in mental health. The state government is clearly walking away from young people here."
The School Focused Youth Service — set up in 1998 in response to the Kennett government's Suicide Prevention Taskforce — is the responsibility of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the Department of Human Services.
The service is designed to reduce suicide through prevention and early-intervention programs.
In Monash, between 2011-12, 13 schools in the city took part in the service, which the council runs with a grant from the Victorian government.
Monash mayor Micaela Drieberg said the council was told by the state government that the service would not continue in its current form after June 2013.
"If this program is axed, schools will still continue to do what they can to help their students, but the real fear is that young people will fall through the gaps," Cr Drieberg said.
"The possible loss of this program is made even more difficult when you consider the lack of mental health services available to young people in Monash. Other than the emergency department at the Monash Medical Centre, there are no mental health support services in Monash that young people can access."
But Education Minister Martin Dixon said his department was "developing more effective responses" for at-risk youths following the release of the state government's Protecting Victoria's Vulnerable Children Inquiry.
Mr Dixon said the government was discussing the issue with the Municipal Association of Victoria, the Victorian Council of Social Services and the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria.
"The material gathered in the course of these discussions will form the basis of forward planning for more effective and contemporary strategies, in a whole of government context for responding to young people at risk."
Professor McGorry called on the Baillieu government to re-examine its decision. "We know that in any given year, 25 per cent of kids will experience mental ill-health and across the whole transition to adulthood, it's about 50 per cent.
"The mental ill health that lies behind the suicide is nearly always treatable or resolvable. If they get the right sort of support and help to get them through that period and also get more definitive treatment ... then the risk passes and they can get on with their lives.
"They really need to reconsider or at least answer the question: what are they going to put in its place?"
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