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Rural and remote mental health crisis needs national strategy: Senate report


Doug Hendrie


7/12/2018 2:44:28 PM

Australians who live outside of the city experience poor mental health at much higher rates than those in rural and remote areas. What can be done?

How can we tackle the mental health crisis in the bush?
How can we tackle the mental health crisis in the bush?

Despite the fact they make up only a third of the population, Australians in rural and remote areas account for almost half of the nation’s deaths by suicide. They are also three times less likely to seek help for issues of mental health than people in major cities.
 
In an effort to tackle the problem, the Senate’s Community Affairs References Committee has called for a national strategy on rural and remote mental health in its inquiry report.
 
‘What has been lacking to date is a mental health strategy specifically for rural and remote communities which takes into account the unique service environments and myriad of barriers to accessing quality mental health services in rural and remote Australia,’ Committee Chair Senator Rachel Siewert said.
 
The Senate report makes 18 recommendations, including:

  • ensuring local community input
  • longer minimum contract lengths for mental health service providers
  • a return to block funding for mental health services
  • ensuring fly-in fly-out mental health professionals are also supported by long-term investment
  • better strategies for professional support and clinical supervision for health practitioners working in rural and remote areas
  • ensuring mental health service providers have culturally competent staff.
‘For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultural competency is as important as clinical competency,’ Senator Siewert said. ‘It is essential that the mental health workforce receive training and input from their local community to ensure their services are culturally appropriate.’
 
The report comes after newsGP reported that a major push was under way by the National Rural Health Alliance to boost funding to allied health professionals in the bush.
 
Not-for-profit provider Rural and Remote Mental Health strongly endorsed the national strategy. CEO Dr Jennifer Bowers said the report’s success will depend on how the recommendations are delivered.
 
‘We know from the results of our extensive research and evaluations that the culturally specific awareness-raising and prevention programs break down stigma by changing attitudes about mental distress and improving help-seeking by those in communities who are self-reliant and would not normally seek help, especially from a mental health professional or a general practitioner,’ she said.



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