Mental health support for the 2019-2020 Victorian bushfires

This page outlines information and advice on how to access mental health and wellbeing support for schools, staff, students and families affected by the 2019-2020 bushfires.

For general support, see: Mental health support for students and staff following an emergency or natural disaster

Department support

Student Support Services (SSS)

Student support services (SSS) comprise a broad range of professionals including psychologists, speech pathologists and social workers. They work as part of an integrated health and wellbeing team within networks of schools, focusing on providing:

  • group-based and individual support
  • workforce capacity building
  • provision of specialised services.

To access student support services, prior to a referral being made, a SSS contact and school can work together to discuss concerns, plans made to date, and strategies to provide immediate support to the student. Where it's identified that a referral is appropriate to SSS, schools can complete the relevant sections in the Student Information Form.

If you need help or have questions about the SSS referral process you can:

  • talk to your SSS Key Contact Officer
  • discuss further concerns with the SSS Branch Manager or Senior Engagement Improvement Leaders (SEIL)
  • provide feedback via your regional SSS Principal Advisory Group.

Information on SSS is available via: student support services.

Student access to headspace counselling services

Secondary school students can access to face-to-face and telephone counselling services through the Department's partnership with headspace. Access to these services is made via a referral from a central contact person within the school.

For more information on headspace services, see: headspace counselling for secondary students

Online mental health and trauma recovery resources

Resources on mental health and trauma recovery are available on the Department's website.

For information and advice for schools, early childhood services and TAFEs see: Bushfires 2020

For resources for students and staff see: mental health support after an emergency or natural disaster

For resources for parents and carers see: dedicated bushfire information for parents

For more information about the Department's response to bushfires, see:

Additional Department mental health support for the 2019-2020 bushfires

The Department is providing additional support for bushfire affected areas, including:

  • Trauma recovery support initiative for schools and early childhood centres ($3.8m)
  • Increased mental health support for impacted schools and early childhood centres ($4m)

Trauma Recovery Team

The Department has established a Trauma Recovery Team to provide expert advice and support in trauma response and recovery for schools and early childhood services to support children and young people to recover from the impacts of the bushfires.

Support includes training and coaching for staff, evidence-based resources and an intervention program for students affected by bushfire.

Work has commenced immediately to support bushfire affected early childhood services and schools for Term 1 and throughout 2020.

The Department is partnering with trauma recovery expert Dr Rob Gordon, who along with his colleagues is visiting impacted schools and early childhood communities.

Increased mental health support

The Department will provide additional allied health services staff, including psychologists and social workers, to impacted areas to directly assist schools and early childhood services to respond and recover from the effects of bushfires.

Additional Student Support Services staff have already been deployed to impacted areas, and more will be identified and deployed.

$500,000 will also be provided to the non-government sector so they can engage allied health staff to support impacted Catholic and independent schools.

Department of Health and Human Services support

The Victorian Bushfires Case Support Program

The Victorian Bushfires Case Support Program is available to people in fire-affected affected areas in Gippsland and North East Victoria as well as people impacted by the fires who live in other parts of Victoria.

The program provides access to Case Support Coordinators who will establish links to vital support, provide information and advice, mental health support or financial counselling.

There is no charge for the services provided by this program.

Affected Victorians can access a Case Support Coordinator by:

  • Calling: 1800 560 760

Bushfire Recovery Victoria

Bushfire Recovery Victoria (BRV) is a new and permanent agency dedicated to working directly with local communities impacted by Victoria's bushfires – including local Community Recovery Committees in the development and delivery of local recovery projects.

Community Recovery Package

The Victorian Bushfires Community Recovery Package will provide $86 million in support local government areas affected by the fires. Support includes:

  • Community and Emergency Services Health: $10 million to boost mental health services and support people impacted by fire, including emergency service personnel
  • Community Recovery Hubs (including mobile hubs): $15 million to provide recovery services and programs to dispersed communities and remote areas
  • Community Recovery Committees: $6 million to help councils and communities develop recovery plans
  • Community Recovery and Resilience Grants: $35 million to support locally-led programs for community connection, engagement and resilience
  • Immediate Reconstruction and Rebuilding Program: $20 million to contribute to temporary housing and repair damaged water assets and infrastructure
  • Recovery grants: up to $75,000 for farmers in these areas affected by the recent bushfires

To register your eligibility/interest, please fill in the form located on Bushfire Recovery Victoria - Programs and initiatives

Local mental health service centres

Search for your suburb or town using the list of Victorian Mental Health Services to find the contact details for clinical and community mental health support services.

Commonwealth government support

The Commonwealth Government is providing $76 million in funding to provide distress counselling and mental health support for individuals, families and communities affected by bushfires.

Commonwealth mental health response to bushfire trauma

Free counselling

Up to 10 free sessions are available through mental health services commissioned in bushfire affected regions by Primary Health Networks (PHNs). Services Australia also has social workers that can help with short term counselling, information and referrals to support services.

Medicare Bushfire Recovery Initiative

Bushfire affected individuals and families, and emergency response personnel will be eligible to receive Medicare rebates for up to 10 psychological therapy sessions through GPs, psychologists and other mental health professionals.

Medicare Bushfire Recovery Telehealth Initiative

Individuals, families and emergency response personnel who cannot easily access mental health professionals in person, will be able to obtain counselling and support through video telehealth services, with Medicare rebates.

Accessing this mental health support

Primary Health Networks

Bushfire Trauma Response Coordinators will be employed in fire affected regions to provide a single point of contact for individuals and communities to ensure the right mental health support are offered in the right place at the right time. To find your local Primary Health Network, please search via the map locator at: www.health.gov.au/phn

Mobile Servicing Teams

Social workers are working in the Commonwealth Government's Mobile Servicing Teams which are travelling through the fire affected areas. The locations of the teams can be found through: How to access our services

You can also call Services Australia's Disaster Hotline on 1802266 or the Employment Services Line on 132850 and ask to speak with a social worker.

General Practitioners 

Your General Practitioner (GP) can refer you to the most appropriate mental health services within the Better Access Scheme. To find a GP near you, please search through: Australian health services

Online and telephone services

Online and telephone health services can be used as an alternative to face-to-face therapies in times of need, or when and where convenient. To help you find the right online or telephone mental health resource for your needs, please see: Head to health service providers

Additional headspace services

Additional funding has been provided to headspace centres to support secondary students' access to support services. You can call Headspace Bairnsdale on (03) 5141 6200, or Headspace Albury Wodonga on (02) 6055 9555. Alternatively, to find your local headspace centre visit: www.headspace.org.au or call eheadspace on 1800 650 890.

Commonwealth Department of Education

The Commonwealth Government has announced a series of targeted initiatives to provide education and mental health support to children, families and communities affected by the 2019-2020 bushfires. This includes $8 million through Beyond Blue to provide 25 mental health liaison officers to work with local schools and early childhood services in bushfire-affected communities, to build capacity and support the health of staff, students, and families.  This support will complement existing school counselling services including state and territory responses to the bushfires. The package will be delivered through the Government's existing national education initiative to support child and youth mental health, Be You

In addition to the National School Chaplaincy Program, the Commonwealth has announced extra funding for school chaplains which will be available to state and territory governments on request.

Please see, The Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Back to school and your child's wellbeing fact sheet for more information.

Other support

The Red Cross

The Red Cross is conducting welfare checks in fire-affected areas and providing psychological first aid to reduce trauma and distress.

The Red Cross have developed resources to assist community recovery from emergency events that are available online, including guidance on helping children cope with crisis, children's books and podcasts to help children coping with emergencies. To access the resources, see: Red Cross - Resources for teachers