Australians living in regional and remote areas tend to have a lower life expectancy and higher rates of disease and injury, which can have a negative impact on mental health. We also know that one in five Australians will experience a mental health disorder each year, and with 29% of the population living in regional and remote areas, this becomes quite significant. Yet, people living in these areas aren’t accessing mental health services at the same rate as people leaving in the city.
Recent reports suggest that Australians living in regional and remote areas are not able to access the mental health services they need.
Regional and remote mental health services – some stats:
- People in cities access on average 40% more Medicare-funded mental health services than those in rural and remote areas (National Rural Health Alliance)
- Remote Australia has one-third the number of psychologists compared with major cities (National Rural Health Alliance)
- Fifteen rural and remote areas have no registered psychologists (Department of Health/Royal Flying Doctor Service)
- The number of GP services per person in very remote areas is around half of that found in major cities (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare)
- Suicide rate in remote areas is almost double the rate in major cities (National Rural Health Alliance/Australian Institute of Health and Welfare)
- For men aged 15-29 years, the death rate from suicide for those who lived outside major cities was nearly twice as high as that in major cities (National Rural Health Alliance/ABS)
The lack of services means that people need to travel a long way to receive treatment. Going these long distances can be inconvenient, and it is made more difficult when there is limited public transport. If a person is physically unwell, the problem becomes worse, and it can increase a sense of social isolation. It makes a timely diagnosis and ongoing treatment less likely to happen.
The size of the community can also be a factor in getting help. If there is a psychologist in a regional or remote area, people in the community are more likely to know each other, and they may see the psychologist in non-professional settings. This can create a conflict of interest and boundary issues for the psychologist. For the person, they may not want to seek help from someone with whom they have an existing relationship.
Telephone and online counselling offered by Suicide Call Back Service and MensLine Australia can help to fill some of these gaps. When compared to face-to-face counselling, studies have suggested that online counselling can be just as effective. Both Suicide Call Back Service and MensLine are free and available 24/7, giving communities access to support when they need it. All calls are answered by professionally trained counsellors who can assess the risk and provide the person with strategies to help their situation.
Other services that are also helping include the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Last year they provided counselling for over 24,000 people, but they feel that they have barely touched the surface. They believe that mental health services in rural and remote Australia are in a state of crisis.
If you live in a regional or remote area and need support, take a look at the National Rural Health Alliance’s Rural and Remote Mental Health Help Sheet, which lists available mental health services.
If you need someone to talk to, reach out to one of our counselling services: