RACGP offers mental health training for rural GPs

Matt Woodley

12/08/2020 4:00:36 PM

The online psychological training programs will help GPs support patients affected by natural disasters and COVID-19.

Dr Michael Clements
RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements said the training is particularly beneficial for GPs in rural and regional areas.

Even though patients in rural and remote Australia experience mental health issues at higher rates than their metropolitan counterparts, access to specialist psychological services is significantly reduced in these areas.
This means rural GPs are often called upon to provide mental health support for patients, a situation that has been exacerbated by COVID-19 and Australia’s unprecedented bushfire season.
RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements knows all too well the effect natural disasters can have on a community’s mental health, having lived through Townsville’s devastating 2019 floods.
‘In the weeks following the disaster, my role quickly changed to a flood counsellor, as well as a GP,’ he said.
Seeing a need for more mental health support for his patients, Dr Clements accessed the college’s online training in order to provide Focussed Psychological Strategies (FPS) and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)-derived counselling to those in need.
‘Patients will rely on their GP as a sounding board and confidant. Whether they’re going through a crisis or just not feeling okay, patients often turn to their GP for support,’ he said.
‘This training will be particularly beneficial for GPs in rural and regional areas – we tend to see greater demand for mental health care from patients, and there is often no nearby specialist mental health services.
‘It’s also particularly timely, as the COVID-19 pandemic is having a huge mental health toll on patients.’
With the next training intake due to open on 31 August, Dubbo GP Dr Ai-Vee Chua said it is ‘marvellous’ that the RACGP will again offer rural GPs the opportunity to gain additional skills in mental health care.
‘Psychological issues adversely affect the wellbeing of so many of our patients. Beyond the emotional impacts, there are often additional impacts on our patients’ physical health conditions, personal relationships, work and finances,’ she said.
‘For example, a patient may be struggling despite their best efforts to control their diabetes, weight or chronic pain conditions. It is not uncommon to find that underpinning these struggles are anxiety, depression, stress, grief or other psychological issues.
‘Being able to help a patient address their psychological issues can also help them to successfully manage their physical conditions and improve their overall wellbeing.’
Dr Chua is looking forward to the next tranche of the college’s Psychological Strategies course, especially as there have been additional stressors affecting the emotional wellbeing of rural populations.
‘People in our region are still suffering the impacts of years of drought conditions, and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic these last few months has fuelled anxiety and depression, created financial stress, forced people to change work and study plans, and brought on extra worries about loved ones,’ she said.
‘Where I am, there is limited access to local psychiatry support, and timely access to affordable psychological support is often difficult. On top of this, within our rural communities there remains a certain stigma around mental health conditions, particularly for farmers, older people and the blokes we look after.
‘This can make it tough for people to acknowledge that they have a mental health concern and to seek help, or for patients to accept referrals to psychiatrists and psychologists.
‘So in terms of both accessibility and acceptability, people may find it easier to visit their trusted GPs to receive counselling and, if needed, advice on medications that will help with their emotional wellbeing.
‘It’s great that our GPs have this opportunity to build higher level skills and confidence to fill the gaps in mental health services in our communities.’
The RACGP’s online training is delivered through a combination of online technology, peer-group learning and locally available resources.
Training includes:

  • the latest best practice for antidepressant prescribing and non-pharmacology treatment options
  • CBT to treat common issues like depression and anxiety
  • GP support to begin applying CBT-derived FPS counselling to patients
  • mental health carer and consumer perspectives.
Interested GPs are able to register online.
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The RACGP Awards recognise outstanding achievements and exceptional individuals for their contribution to general practice. Visit the RACGP website for more information, or to nominate a GP or GP in training.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy counselling Focussed Psychological Strategies mental health RACGP rural trauma

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