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The Victorian government will spend $200 million to expand mental health services to 1,800 low-cost government and non-government primary schools across the state as part of a campaign to tackle mental illness among young pupils .

The funding will be used to scale up a pilot program operating in 100 Victorian schools in partnership with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne, and employ a mental health and wellbeing officer for each school by 2026.

Education Minister James Merlino

Education Minister James MerlinoCredit:Chris Hopkins

Education Minister James Merlino said the Royal Commission into Victoria’s health system set up in 2019 had highlighted the role schools play in identifying children with mental health problems and well-being and referral for treatment.

According to data provided by the state government, about half of all cases of anxiety, mood, impulse control and substance use disorders occur before the age of 14. Students struggling with their mental health also lag behind their peers throughout their schooling.

The funding announcement comes as the state government prepares to present a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act to Parliament today.

The new legislation will be used to create regional mental health and wellbeing councils in the state and establish a new mental health and wellbeing commission with the power to investigate complaints and hold the government.

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It will also create Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing Victoria, a new advisory body for young people with the power to commission specialist mental health services.

Merlino said the legislation was “another key part” of the government’s reform of the mental health system, which was being rebuilt “from the ground up”.

“I can tell you today that we have funded 2,500 more mental health workers, that we are making progress on 90% of the Royal Commission recommendations and that today we are introducing a brand new Mental Health Bill and well-being,” he said.

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