General News Politics — 30 January 2013

Three months ago the successful rural psychologist training program was  presented with an award for excellence by the NSW Minister for Mental Health.  This month, it will be forced to close because of lack of funding.

The closure of the Rural and Remote Area Psychologists Project could force  much-needed psychologists from the bush, locals and psychologists say.

They hold grave concerns that the mental health of rural NSW will be  forgotten now the decade-long drought has broken.

The award-winning program provided about one in five rural and regional NSW  psychologists’ continuing education, which the federal medical regulator says  they need to practise. The closure comes after federal cuts to psychological  services under the Better Access program.

Lois Stalley, the vice-president of the Country Women’s Association of NSW,  said it took a huge effort to get country people to talk about their state of  mind, but now they would be left with nowhere to turn.

”Now the drought has finished, I know that they’re starting to relax [the  focus on mental health] and lose momentum,” she said. ”But the drought was was  only part of the problem.”

Farmers say there has been a decline in mental health services.

Graham Parry, who helped develop the psychologists’ project, said it cannot  get funding from the NSW government, and funding from the Psychology Council of  NSW – about $150,000 a year – could no longer be provided now the council has  been absorbed into the federal medical registration system.

He said the project had tapped into goodwill and donations from groups  including the Black Dog Institute and Swinburne University.

“Without this program it’s just going to be more difficult and more expensive  to keep the existing workforce in rural areas,” he said.

Barbara Perry, the opposition spokeswoman on mental health, said the  situation was astounding.

”This award-winning program has, on a shoestring budget, performed a vital  role,” she said. “[This] is not only illogical, but undermines the O’Farrell  government’s stated aims of doing something about the lack of resourcing,  isolation and maintenance of skill levels for mental health practitioners in  rural and remote areas.”

Linda McDouall, a psychologist in Barraba, said she did not know how she  could continue working without the program.

“I don’t have a plan, I’m just desperately hoping it will continue,” she  said.

People who work in agriculture have one of the highest rates of suicide in  Australia.

Warren Bartik, a clinical psychologist with a part-time private practice  in  Armidale, said the program had been vital for helping psychologists deal with  unique problems in rural areas.

The Minister for Mental Health, Kevin Humphries, said training was a matter  for health professionals, employers, and local health districts.

“As a regional member of Parliament … I am well aware of the challenges  facing regional communities,” he said.

“Since coming into government we have made improving regional mental health a  key priority, with new initiatives to ensure that geography is no longer a  barrier to treatment.”

As first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, 29 January 2013. Read more:


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