Rural Therapies — 28 March 2018

We all know the shocking stats – people who live outside the major cities in Australia suffer from higher rates of mental illness, self-harm and suicide. In fact, if you live in a remote area, you’re more than twice as likely to die by suicide than people in other parts of the country. 

Photo: Triple J Hack 

But is this because mental health services aren’t as high quality as the cities, or do they just not exist in the first place?

That’s a question the Senate is about to tackle. On Monday afternoon, Labor and the Greens passed a motion to set up an inquiry looking into mental health services in the bush.

It will look at whether there are enough services in rural and regional areas, what the barriers are for getting people the help they need, whether community attitudes play a role, and whether technology can help.

“Australians struggling with mental ill health already have the odds stacked against them with insufficient mental health services,” Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said.

“The Royal Flying Doctors Service said a few months ago our rural and remote mental health services are in crisis with people in the bush only accessing services at 20 per cent of the rate of those in the city.”

A report with the findings will be handed back to the Senate in October.

‘There were no services at all’

In October, Hack did a whole show on mental health in the bush, and the reaction was MASSIVE.

So many of you told us that you’d struggled with mental health issues, and hit a brick wall when trying to find help.

Like caller Rowan from the central west. He tried HEAPS of different mental health services.

“I thought, well that’s all well and good for someone in my own situation where I wasn’t about to take my own life,” Rowan told Hack. “But for someone who was having major issues, that’s not good enough.”

Lisa texted in to tell us the same thing. “Waiting times in South West Victoria for psychologist appointment is three months,” she wrote.

Anne-Marie Williams’ husband died by suicide in 2014. The family lives in Penola, a remote town in South Australia that has a population of just under 1,600.

Mark had been diagnosed with depression more than a decade earlier, and the family had been trying to get more help for him before his death.

“There were no services at all. We tried to get counselling for him, and we had to wait two months before we could even get any,” Anne-Marie told Hack.

Listeners share their stories

A lot of triple j listeners told us about the barriers they face when trying to access mental health services in the bush – everything from badly-trained doctors, to stigma and the difficulties of keeping things anonymous in a small town.

“I have a male friend in his early 20s living in a regional community that sought a mental health referral from his GP and was told ‘everyone feels stressed around your age. This is normal’. Very disappointing that he was turned away when I know how difficult it was for him to reach out,” one listener said.

Jemma had a similar story.

“There needs to be more mental health training especially in Queensland,” she said.

Jess texted in to share her story.

“I’m from a small farm town with a population of about 2,000 people. When my best friend suddenly passed away I was forced to go to the doctors by my mum and got diagnosed with depression. Then because everyone knows everyone in that town someone at the doctors told someone else about my depression. Eventually end[ed] up getting bullied about it. So I just used to pretend that I was fine when I wasn’t,” she said.

Stigma was something that came up again and again.

“It took me well into my twenties to get proper mental health support – as a teenager I felt too ashamed and lost to ask my family or friends for help, but I did spend many hours at home on the internet, I wish there had been more services online ten years ago,” Emily said.

Someone else texted in: “Australia needs to de-stigmatise mental health conditions; it is FAR TOO prevalent and debilitating to be suppressed and ignored.”

This piece by Shalailah Medhora was originally published on ‘Tripple J Hack‘, 19 March 2018.

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