Letter: Better delivery of mental health services

The Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA), National Farmers Federation (NFF), the National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) have strongly welcomed the Liberal-Nationals Government’s announcement this week to provide additional financial support to drought-affected farming families, including $11.4 million in mental health support initiatives.

The announcement takes the government’s drought relief package to $576 million.

This support is critical at a time when many farming families and other rural business owners are facing relentless financial and psychological pressure as a result of the ongoing drought.

The government has rightly recognised that it is not only financial assistance that farming families need – many farming families and other rural small business owners impacted by the drought may also need mental health support.

We also welcome the focus being not only on farmers and their partners, but also the children of farming families, who often know intimately the pressures that their parents are facing during times of drought.

It is critical that these families have all options available to them when seeking mental health support at this very stressful time.

Accessing counselling via videoconferencing (such as Skype) with a distant psychologist, occupational therapist (OT) or social worker through the Government’s Medicare telehealth mental health initiative will continue to be a very useful approach for many rural families.

We are now very pleased to welcome the support from Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, and Minister for Rural Health, Bridget McKenzie, to ensure that appropriately qualified rural GPs will also be able to access this telehealth initiative.

Local rural doctors are extremely well positioned to provide mental health care, as they have an intimate understanding of the drought’s impact in their region. 

They know the local families, their healthcare histories, and exacerbating factors that may impact on their mental health, as well as having the best knowledge of additional supports and community programs that are available in the local area.

It is extremely encouraging to see that Minister Hunt and Minister McKenzie recognise the advantages local doctors can provide, and that travelling in to town for a consult is just an added pressure that farmers do not need during times of stress.

Dr Adam Coltzau, 

Rural Doctors Association of Australia president

Fiona Simson,

National Farmers Federation president

Mark Diamond,

National Rural Health Alliance CEO Associate Professor Ruth Stewart, Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine president

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