HUNDREDS of Bendigo health professionals have improved their ability to help those suffering mental illness, as some report rising rates of distress in patients.
Bendigo experts have warned that COVID-19 social distancing has created conditions which are a risk factor for mental health issues.
More than 300 health workers - from podiatrists to, prison nurses, to midwives - have enrolled in a graduate certificate in mental health at La Trobe University this year.
Through this health professionals learn to identify, assess and interact with people experiencing mental illness.
Course coordinator Kate Emond said misunderstanding about mental health in the health sector could make it harder to engage patients in treatment.
Ms Emond said healthcare workers needed to be able to look at every aspect of a person's healthcare, because it was all related.
She said mental health was often not core in undergraduate healthcare curriculum.
"As all healthcare workers, we serve the community in all its entirety. We can't not look at a person holistically ... we can't silo conditions," she said.
Ms Emond said COVID-19 had been a contributing factor to demand for support, as a strong social network was one of the keys for good mental health.
She said pandemic-isolation meant it was even more important healthcare workers knew how to respond to signs of mental illness, as medical appointments were one of few social interactions for Victorians.
Bendigo Health maternal child health nurse Stacy Boswood said during COVID-19 she had seen a huge increase in the number of women and families experiencing mental health issues.
Ms Boswood took part in the course this year.
She said during the pandemic she had encountered mental health issues daily, if not multiple times a day, where previously they normally came up about weekly.
Ms Boswood said the issues she saw hadn't changed - mainly anxiety and depression - but people had lost their normal support networks.
She said it was helpful to have more background into people's thoughts, and what supports she could help put in place.
For Ms Boswood, it had been a challenge picking up on mental health indicators as Bendigo's maternal child health services moved online during the pandemic.
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