COMMENT: Saving young lives should transcend politics

Bega High School captain Elyse Philipzen addresses the crowd on Wednesday to celebrate news of Headspace funding for Bega.
Bega High School captain Elyse Philipzen addresses the crowd on Wednesday to celebrate news of Headspace funding for Bega.

The mental health of our region’s youth is of paramount importance.

So it’s with no small amount of interest and pleasure that we heard the renowned Headspace organisation would be coming to Bega.

The announcement on Wednesday that over $4.5million of federal funding was to be dedicated to establishing and running a Headspace service in the Valley for the next four years was met with widespread acclaim and cheers. No surprise there as locals have been advocating for a Headspace for more than a decade.

In the crowd listening to Federal Health Minster Greg Hunt and representatives of Southern NSW Primary Health Network confirm Headspace for Bega were local health professionals and social workers alongside Bega High School’s student captains and welfare officer.

All appeared to be in agreement that a Headspace is a welcome and long overdue addition to the Bega Valley’s landscape of services for young people.

How Headspace is implemented and made accessible to all from Eden to Bermagui is now up for discussion, but there’s little doubt it will prove immensely valuable.

However, it’s a shame to see the announcement potentially being used for political point scoring.

Among the apologies for politicians not able to attend were Minister Hunt, Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos – who was originally scheduled to make the announcement in person – and Bega MP Andrew Constance. Absent was any mention of Labor’s Member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly, who is both the patron of Bega valley’s Suicide Prevention Action Network (SPAN) and co-chair of the bipartisan Parliamentary Friends of Suicide Prevention committee.

We’re told Dr Kelly was only informed of the 3pm announcement at 11am that morning, and only by Coordinaire as a courtesy to check he knew it was happening, not through any official channels. Given the short time frame it’s no surprise there would be apologies, but surely someone who has done so much for the cause of mental health in this region deserves a mention.

The issue of mental health and suicide prevention, especially for our youth but indeed for everyone, is critical and should transcend all political ideologies.

As the chairwoman of SPAN Liz Seckold told us following the Headspace announcement: “The bottom line is we want to save young people’s lives.”