A Federal Senate hearing in Townsville will today hear about the difficulties in accessing mental health services and the higher rates of suicide in northern and western Queensland.
Queensland Alliance for Mental Health (QAMH) Acting CEO Simone Finch, who will provide evidence to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, said action needed to be taken to address a lack of services in regional Queensland and improve attitudes to positive mental health.
Ms Finch pointed to evidence showing suicide was the cause of death in 3.1 per cent of instances in the Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (PHN) area and 4.2 per cent of deaths in the Western Queensland PHN area.
“The sad fact is suicide in these regions occurs at a far higher rate than in other parts of Queensland and the rest of Australia,” Ms Finch said.
“In Northern Queensland we’ve seen the number of hospitalisations due to a mental health condition increase by almost 20 per cent over three years.
“In Western Queensland people go to the hospital emergency department with mental health concerns 1.6 times more often than other Queenslanders.
“The need for accessible mental health services has never been greater, particularly at a time when large parts of the state are in the midst of a crippling drought, but there remains a divide between city and country that needs to be addressed.”.
Ms Finch said QAMH’s evidence to the Senate Committee was informed by the experiences of member organisations delivering mental health services across Queensland, including the Townsville region.
“The main challenges they’ve identified include the stigma that exists in seeking support, the difficulties in accessing services in the regions and the low number of mental health professionals living and working in rural and regional Queensland,” she said.
“There needs to be a continued focus on the mental health workforce in regional Queensland, particularly staff attraction and retention. Country areas are continuing to lose good staff to metropolitan areas and we need to work to reverse this trend.
“Long-term investment in community-led mental health programs is another essential part of the solution.
“To improve attitudes towards mental health in rural and remote locations we need to improve services by making them more available and responsive.
“This will transform mental health across regional Queensland and deliver positive results for countless families and communities.”
- Between 2012-2016 was the cause of death in 4.2 per cent of all deaths in Western Queensland PHN region (equal worst rate with Northern Territory PHN).
- Over the same period, suicide was the cause of death for 3.1 per cent of all deaths in Northern Queensland PHN.
- The average rate for the rest of Australia was 1.8 per cent.
- Despite about a third of Australians living in regional Australia, almost 90 per cent of psychiatrists and around two-thirds of mental health practitioners work in major cities.
- Evidence from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows mental health-related GP encounters in outer regional, remote and very remote communities is occurring at a far lower level than in more populated centres.
- GPs are often the first point of contact for people seeking access to help. The Townsville Hospital and Health Service region has the lowest GP rate in Northern Queensland.
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