Strategy needed to address rural and remote mental health

The Senate's Community Affairs References Committee has called for a national strategy to address the low rates of access to mental health services and the high rate of suicide in Australia's rural and remote communities.

The committee's report, tabled in the Senate and published last week, set out the findings of the inquiry into the accessibility and quality of mental health services in rural and remote Australia and made 18 recommendations to the government.

"Australians living in rural and remote communities are less likely to seek mental health treatment than their city dwelling counterparts,” said Committee Chair Senator Rachel Stewert.

“Tragically they're also twice as likely to die by suicide.

"What has been lacking to date is a mental health strategy that considers the unique service environments and myriad of barriers to accessing quality mental health services in rural and remote Australia.

"One clear message came from rural and remote communities: their voices and experiences are not being listened to in service design and delivery.

"For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultural competency is as important as clinical competency.”

The committee received 138 submissions and held 16 public hearings, travelling across Australia to hear from people that live and work in rural and remote communities.

A full copy of its report can be found here

Australians don’t know where to find mental health care

In another recent report, Bupa found despite two in three Australians being diagnosed with a mental health condition, or knowing someone who has, many don’t know what to do or where to go for help.

Bupa surveyed 1,000 Australians to assess the nation’s mental health literacy.

The research suggested 85 per cent of Australians were not confident they would know where to seek help if they, or one of their dependents, were experiencing mental health problems.

Bupa believes this lack of knowledge and limited access to mental health services were significant barriers to seeking help. Shame and embarrassment were identified as the most common obstacles to addressing mental health conditions.

Bupa’s head of public health, Dr Zoe Wainer, said the lack of understanding about the mental healthcare system had a real impact on people’s ability to seek help and receive appropriate treatment.

“General practitioners are identified as the most common source of information,” Dr Wainer said. “This supported the findings from research launched earlier this year by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, which identified mental health issues as the number one presenting patient condition.

“Another trend identified in Bupa’s study is the use of online search engines, such as Google, for information.

“Based on the research, one in five Australians (21%) are likely to use online searches to access information about mental health. Yet, the majority don’t believe they are a credible source.”

Dr Wainer said the research also identified access to mental healthcare as another barrier to treatment. It indicated most Australians thought mental health services were as available as general health services, particularly in regional communities compared to metro areas. 

“This research confirms the need for increased healthcare services and access to information across the country,” Dr Wainer said.

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