A recent media release on the mental health care plans for rural and remote Australian has us finally cheering. The Government has announced that the budget will boost telehealth psychological services, set to be rolled out in November this year. The release states, that “people living in rural and remote regions of Australia will get the same access to psychologists as those living in our major cities”. In my opinion, this should have always been the case.
The major barrier that has been existing since Medicare first provided rebates to psychological services back in 2006, was the exclusion of telehealth services. This includes psychological therapy and counselling through Skype, telephone, FaceTime and the internet. This decision of course disadvantaged thousands of Australians across the nation by restricting their access to affordable and individualised treatment. Now nearly eleven years on, this gap will finally be addressed.
The mental health and social-and-emotional wellbeing of people who live and work in rural and remote Australian towns is a critical concern. Farmers, for example, may face incredible hardships as they deal with long periods of drought, financial burdens, family and relationship breakdowns, isolation and traumatic incidents. Rates of suicide are also higher among those in rural and remote regions compared to the national average and this statistic has risen over the past decade.
Whilst it has always been ‘possible’ for every Australian to access psychological services, the reality is that many simply cannot afford to do so. City dwellers have the advantage of being able to visit a psychologist’s office and taking along a GP referral to have some or all of their sessions covered by Medicare. Remote Australians in contrast either choose to travel hundreds of kilometres for an appointment (often not practical) or pay full fee for telephone or internet based therapies. Over the years, online treatment programs, such as This Way Up, have become increasingly available to help address this problem. Whilst such programs demonstrate high levels of efficacy in reducing ‘symptoms’ and are clearly beneficial, they also lack the personalised contact with an individual therapist and may not suit every individual circumstance.
The Government’s recognition of this issue comes as a huge relief and I am hopeful that the changes will make a real difference to the lives of Australians residing in rural and remote regions. If you or someone you know needs assistance, get in touch with LifeLine (13 11 14) or MensLine (1300 78 99 78).