Mental health in Latrobe a significant issue, experts say

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The closure of Hazelwood power station has been linked to a rise in mental health issues in the region. 

By NICHOLAS DUCK

Mental health in the Latrobe Valley has declined as crime rates have grown, experts have warned.

Recent crime rates showed a crime rate of almost one for every five people in the Latrobe Valley last year, with more than 13,000 offences recorded.

Concerns have been raised over how these rates affect mental health and what effects it could have.

Recent studies have found that the rates of self-harm in the Latrobe Valley was almost double the state average, while life expectancy was found to be the worst in the state. 

Lachlan Davey, a clinician at Morwell Headspace, a youth counselling service concerned with mental health, said there was a definite “skew” towards issues occurring in Latrobe compared to other areas.

“It’s definitely more prevalent in the area,” he said.

“[Morwell Headspace is] all full, we have a waiting list for our service, the welfare teams at schools are full.

“With Morwell, we’d see a lot of the lower socio-economic families, a lot of the people on welfare. 

“Inevitably, they find themselves in that same cycle.”

The Latrobe Valley is generally seen as having a lower socio-economic status because of the high number of mining and power station workers in the area. 

The recent closure of the Hazelwood power station, which has caused a loss of jobs for more than 700 workers, is thought to have also had an effect on mental health of the community.

“The closure may have had significant effects at the time,” Mr Davey said.

“It may not necessarily have a direct effect from what we see, but it can indirectly be playing a role.”

Mr Davey said Latrobe Valley was “slowly dying”. “Jobs are disappearing, and unless something changes people will start departing,” he said.

The Government is making efforts to combat these issues, with a new $4.3 million youth space being built in Morwell to help young people with education, employment and a connection to the community.

Mr Davey said more could be done.

“There could always be more, we’re doing the best with what we have,” he said. “We don’t get a lot of professionals, simply because we’re in the country and psychologists don’t want to come in,”

“I can’t see it getting terribly worse, but without significant change will at least be consistent.”

Emily Prestidge, an 18-year-old whose father lost his job when Hazelwood closed, said the closure “absolutely” had a negative effect on her mental health.

“Dad’s income was our family’s main source of income. It was hard not to think about it,” she said.

“We weren’t sure how we were going to continue financially. It was really stressful for a long period of time, because we didn’t know what we were going to do.

“Dad was stressing, which made the whole family unit crumble a little.”