A mental health care provider in Queensland will use federal drought assistance funding to trial video link counselling services.
The Mental Illness Fellowship of North Queensland (MIFNQ) will also conduct free counselling on a fly-in fly-out basis to remote locations in the Etheridge, Croydon and Flinders Shires.
The organisation is still negotiating a service agreement and aren’t able to disclose how much money they will receive from the 320 million dollar drought package announced by the Department of Agriculture in February.
The chief executive officer of MIFNQ, Jeremy Audus, says they are taking a holistic approach to improving mental health across entire communities.
“We’re not just targeting farmers, but also families and other community members, because we’ve all got a part to play in improving people’s wellbeing and mental health.”
MIFNQ will initially conduct face to face individual and group counselling services, before organising long-term treatment which may occur via video link.
Mr Audus hopes the funding will continue into 2015.
“For far too long, there has been a lack of funding in the area of mental illness, especially when you consider that mental illness will affect one in every four Australians in any given year.
“This drought assistance package is very helpful, but it needs to be joined up with other services and other packages of funding to provide a comprehensive, national funding strategy.”
He says it’s an oversight that the white paper currently looking at developing northern Australia doesn’t focus on mental health care.
“We do hear some very frightening stories, particularly about men in drought-affected areas where they can no longer run their cattle and they’ve taken their lives. There’s absolutely evidence of that.
“It’s occurring at a higher rate in parts of Queensland and the Northern Territory than anywhere else in Australia.”
MIFNQ can be contacted on 1800 985 944.
A list of providers is available here.
Question mark over long term services
The Federal drought assistance funding is a short term solution and there are serious concerns for the ongoing support in regional communities as the future of Medicare Local is uncertain.
Speculation has been mounting that the local health bodies, which were set up under the Rudd government in a $1.8 billion initiative to organise community-specific health programs, will be scrapped in next month’s budget.
Well known mental health advocate Alison Fairleigh is also the State Manager of Rural Services at MIFNQ.
She says it’s conflicting that the Government will give funding for some services but take it away from others.
“I think a lot of what happens in budget allocation turns out to be robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
She says the uncertainty is making it difficult for some mental health service providers to properly support their clients.
“What they’re [the Government] doing is creating difficult and long term problems on the ground by not allowing us to have that continued long term support to give to people who need it, when they need it.
“We have to be able to say ‘these are the service agencies you can go to to get help’ but if we don’t know that those services are even going to be there, where do we send them and where do we tell them help is available?
“One of the critical things is that mental health patients receive continuity of care because there’s a therapeutic relationship between somebody who is seeking support from a mental health professional.
“When that’s broken the bonds are broken for them to try and seek out a new person to build a relationship with and is often a setback in their recovery.”
This article first appeared on ABC Rural on 23 April, 2014.