Closing the gap in mental health services
Poor mental health has the potential to negatively impact on personal and community wellbeing and productivity.
A recent submission by the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) to the Senate Inquiry on Accessibility and quality of mental health services in rural and remote Australia has found that access to mental health support services in regional areas is limited and distance prevents many from seeking help. The RAI has suggested more accessible and quality services are needed to address this widespread issue.
The submission notes that there are more developmentally vulnerable children, and fewer psychologists and social service providers in small towns than larger centres. Additionally, the situation is worse for towns that are smaller and more remote, and this gap is widening.
Distance and a lack of flexibility in relevant policy and resource allocation are two key areas the RAI has identified that could improve service delivery in rural and remote Australia.
One example of this is the Medicare telehealth rebate. While technological advances are enabling telehealth psychological services to reach more people, fulfilling the Medicare rebate requirement to meet face-to-face during one of the first four meetings, can prevent or discourage people using the service.
To meet requirements, either the client will need to travel long distances to attend an appointment in person, or mobile mental health service providers (including psychologists) will need to increase in number and geographic dispersion to reach the wider population.
Mental health management opportunities in rural and remote areas can also be found through improved preparedness, resilience and advocacy (championing). Personal advocates (champions) have a critical role in assisting people with early management of mental health issues, particularly in regional areas with limited access to services.
If implemented, these changes could go a long way to build the resilience and wellbeing of individuals and communities, and assist in closing the gap in mental health services between regional and metro areas.
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