Action must be taken to address a lack of services, higher rates of suicide and improve attitudes to positive mental health in rural and remote parts of Queensland.
Queensland Alliance for Mental Health CEO Kris Trott said a new joint report, informed by organisations providing mental health services across Queensland and the Northern Territory, revealed the extent of the problem in our most regional communities.
“Sadly, evidence shows suicide rates in remote and very remote areas occur at a much higher rate than our major cities, and particular groups like men, primary producers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are most at risk,” Ms Trott said.
“A Federal Senate inquiry is currently considering these issues and as part of that we’ve done a major submission with the Northern Territory Mental Health Coalition which highlights the biggest challenges in providing equitable mental health services in bush areas.
“These include cultural issues, particularly stigma, the extremely low rates of mental health professionals working in remote communities and the distances and costs involved in accessing services in country areas, to name just a few.
“The nature of the mental health workforce is one of the most critical issues, including a lack of bulk billing GPs, the cost of attracting and retaining staff in rural locations and the loss of experienced staff due to the lack of professional development options.”
Ms Trott said a rural and regional taskforce, totally independent from government, was needed to deliver a complete package of recommendations to transform the delivery of mental health services in rural and remote communities.
“We welcome the Federal Senate’s focus on this issue, but we need to involve grassroots mental health providers and organisations delivering services on the ground in these communities in coming up with a proper solution,” she said.
“What is made clear in the evidence provided by a range of providers from rural locations right across Queensland and the Northern Territory is that it’s going to take significant focus and effort to address these inequalities.
“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.”
Despite about a third of Australians living in regional Australia, around 90 per cent of psychiatrists and two-thirds of mental health practitioners work in major cities.
Only three psychiatrists per 100,000 of population and 30 psychologists per 100,000 of population are employed in remote and very remote areas.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.
The lack of bulk-billing GPs in rural and remote areas limits the access of low income workers to mental health plans. The rate of suicide in young men aged 15-29 years who live outside major cities is almost twice as high as it is in major cities. In Australia, it has been found that farmers have suicide rates around 1.5 to 2 times higher than the national average.