Report recommends new rural and remote mental health strategy

A Federal Senate Committee report identifies the gaps in mental health supports in rural and remote communities and makes recommendations on how to improve services and outcomes for individuals.

Queensland Alliance for Mental Health (QAMH) CEO Kris Trott said the report contained important recommendations that would help address longstanding issues such as accessibility, the difficulties of attracting mental health professionals into regional areas and the funding uncertainty many organisations experience.

“One of the most critical recommendations is that a national rural and remote mental health strategy is developed and that the National Mental Health Commission leads this work,” Ms Trott said.

“While we have a range of strategies for mental health services, both at a Federal and State level, what’s lacking is a strategy for delivering mental health services in rural and remote communities.”

The Senate Committee found:

Rural and remote mental health services across the country represent a patchwork of strategies, models and approaches funded by all levels of government. Few appear to be fully meeting the needs of the communities which they service.

Until there is a strategy that acknowledges the different context of rural and remote communities, mental health service delivery in rural and remote locations will continue to be a fragmented approach with band-aid solutions.

“This is an important acknowledgment, because this recognition comes from a Senate Committee that includes representatives from across the political divide and we need bipartisan support to make a change and improve outcomes,” Ms Trott said.

“We know that services in rural and remote locations are less accessible, more expensive and that there simply isn’t enough funding or resourcing to meet need. “Hopefully this report is a catalyst for change and we see a commitment to implementing its recommendations.”

Other key issues identified by the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs report include:

  • That short-term funding contracts are impacting services and continuity of care. The committee recommends all levels of government should develop longer contracts.
  • That the community must have a say in service design and delivery, to ensure supports match community need. 
  • That the Government and health professional colleges must work together to develop strategies to improve training and professional development opportunities – so mental health professionals are supported to stay in regional locations.

QAMH advocated on behalf of members throughout the Committee process, including by delivering a joint submission with the Northern Territory Mental Health Coalition and participating in the public hearings in Townsville.

“I’d like to thank our members who provided their insights and acknowledge everyone who participated or played a role in this inquiry,” Ms Trott said.

“Regional advocacy and engagement is one of the most critical things we do at QAMH and we will absolutely continue to pursue these issues and push for positive change into the future.”

Access the Accessibility and quality of mental health services in rural and remote Australia report here.