General News — 25 October 2012
Calls for rural mental health upgrade

A leading rural health worker is calling for the improvement of mental health services in country WA, as outback communities struggle to cope with 2012’s tumultuous climate.

Regional Men’s Health Director Owen Catto says distress calls in April and May this year were more than two-to-three times for the same period last year, as WA farmers waited until June 12 for the start of the rain season.

He says WA farmers are currently at a “critical stage” with most areas experiencing a dry stretch when rains should be falling.

“It’s dry everywhere at the moment, so we’re on a bit of a knife’s edge,” he says.

“What we want is a cool end to the season with an appropriate amount of rain.”

Dr Catto says situational stress related to farming cycles can worsen existing tensions related to relationship and financial problems, as well as increase general feelings of anxiety and hopelessness.

He says mental health services in rural WA are drastically under resourced, with a shortage of male mental health workers of particular concern.

“Because we don’t have sufficient mental health support, we see too many people simply diagnosed with depression and not offered any kind of clinical support for things like relationship breakdown, financial woes, or unemployment,” Dr Catto says.

“The employment of men within the [mental health] services is shocking.

“We’re under-resourced generally, but particularly under-resourced on blokes, and often men will only engage with other men on these issues.”

Dr Catto says much of the improvement to services could come simply from changing the way medical practitioners address mental health issues; recognising that lifestyle factors often lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.

“Mental health is described in a really general way and we think we should be talking about social well-being a whole lot more,” he says.

Dr Catto recommends health workers address mental health issues in a similar way to type 1 and type 2diabetes.

“[Our way of thinking is] type one mental health is the stuff we’re born with, perhaps bipolar, schizophrenia or some depressions,” he says.

“Type two is lifestyle induced mental health problems; post traumatic stress, anxieties, depressions, phobias—these are situationally induced problems.”

“But the way medical professionals talk, is to describe them all under the mental health category—we need to separate that but the health industry at present simply describes mental health in one broad stroke.”

As first appeared in Science Network, 24 October 2012

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