NACCHO Aboriginal #closethegap Rural Health News : There is no health without mental health

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There is no health without mental health, so it is critical that individuals  right through to our governments value it, and value mental healthcare too.

“In rural and remote areas the rate of suicide is 66% higher than urban areas, yet only 1% of psychologists and psychiatrists work in these areas. But we have Rural Generalists, GPs, Nurses, Allied Health Professionals and Aboriginal Health Workers in remote areas, and many of them are ‘experts’ in the field…so it is critical that we strengthen our resources at the frontline

I urge all federal and state politicians and policy-makers to value and support those already working on the frontline of mental healthcare — GPs, Nurses, Allied Health Professionals, Teachers and Aboriginal Health Workers — who are providing a valuable service to rural and remote Australia despite its challenges.

“By valuing mental healthcare and those who wish to provide that service, we can hopefully attract moreof them all. As it stands currently, our workforce is at crisis point, and our community is at a crisis point.”

Dr Molly Shorthouse is a Rural Generalist practitioner from Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory speaks to federal politicians including Minister for Rural Health Fiona Nash on mental health emergency

Download FULL Speech here

” Many of the fears I had about practicing medicine in a remote indigenous community had been largely unrealised.

In fact, Dr Shorthouse said in many ways she was more supported, by the community and by medical mentors in her current role than she felt when practising in a suburban tertiary hospital

A remote doctor working in East Arnhem Land has urged federal politicians to continue to focus on improving access to mental healthcare services in the bush, and to ensure that doctors and other health professionals who are often working at the frontline of mental healthcare  are also provided with the support they need to help them to cope with what is a difficult and draining aspect of their work.

Dr Molly Shorthouse is a Rural Generalist practitioner from Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory, and Chair of RDAA’s Northern Territory chapter. As part of her medical training to gain Fellowship of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (FACRRM), Dr Shorthouse has undertaken Advanced Skills Training in Mental Healthcare.

Nhulunbuy is a small and very remote town in the Aboriginal land of North-East Arnhem Land, approximately 650 kilometres west of Darwin and 1000 kilometres east of Cairns, by air.

Dr Shorthouse was the guest speaker at the RDAA Breakfast Briefing for Federal Politicians, held at Parliament House in Canberra.

“As 1 in 5 Australians have had an episode of mental illness in the past 12 months, I am sure that every person in this room has either experienced or been close to someone with a mental illness” Dr Shorthouse told the federal politicians gathered at RDAA’s Breakfast Briefing.

“Imagine for a second that every person with mental illness suddenly had a broken leg, a cast and crutches hindering their lives. We would notice if 1 in 5 Australians had that, wouldn’t we? But we don’t with mental illness, as people are very good at playing the “game face” and keeping their mental health concerns to themselves.

“There is no health without mental health, so it is critical that individuals  right through to our governments value it, and value mental healthcare too.

“In rural and remote areas the rate of suicide is 66% higher than urban areas, yet only 1% of psychologists and psychiatrists work in these areas. But we have Rural Generalists, GPs, Nurses, Allied Health Professionals and Aboriginal Health Workers in remote areas, and many of them are ‘experts’ in the field…so it is critical that we strengthen our resources at the frontline.

“This also means providing support to our health professionals who are on the frontline of mental healthcare every day.

“You cannot underestimate the intensity of providing mental health services to rural and remote communities. You often hear things that no-one else hears. And you see and hear trauma where it is hidden from others. Peoples’ “game faces” drop and those who seem to be strong community stalwarts can be desperately sad to you.

“And you begin to realise that, with the right questions, almost every patient who presents to you will start to tell you their mental illness, not their physical one. Because for most people and their families, it is their mental health they value and require, above all else.

“I urge you to read the Rural Doctors Association of Australia’s soon-to-be-released position paper on Mental Health, as it is fundamentally a blueprint for how Australia can develop a long-term strategic plan to address the mental health needs of rural and remote Australians.

“It is about the value of the Primary Care Clinician, the local one, and the value of community-based mental healthcare, because for all rural and remote Australians with mental illness, if you want to close the gap, first you must close the distance.

“We also need funding support for Mental Healthcare upskilling and training such as the grants that GP Obstetricians and Anaesthetists receive. Do you know I took my own annual leave last year to spend a week training and upskilling on an in-patient psychiatric ward?

“And we need to see a Joint Consultative Committee develop between the College of Psychiatry and the GP Colleges, like that which exist in Anaesthetics and Obstetrics. This is the only way rural and remote GPs will receive the training, supervision and support they require to face the challenges of remote mental health.

“In East Arnhem, we have a vision. We would like to develop a Primary Mental Health network between many organisations in our community, and we would like to develop person-centred holistic treatment plans.

“We would like to use our GP Management plans for diabetes as a conduit to mental health screening, so that everyone with diabetes and pre-diabetes is screened and mood disorders are identified and treated early. Can you imagine the financial and health implications of preventing deterioration of both diabetes and mental illness?

“In East Arnhem, many of our children and teenagers are suffering mental illness. And nationally we know that up to 50% of mental health conditions begin by age 14. Specific learning disorders, bullying, trauma and conflict in the home environment all contribute to the early development of anxiety and depression in children. We would like to develop a co-ordinated and local approach between our schools, parents and health services so we can catch our children before they fall.

“I urge all federal and state politicians and policy-makers to value and support those already working on the frontline of mental healthcare — GPs, Nurses, Allied Health Professionals, Teachers and Aboriginal Health Workers — who are providing a valuable service to rural and remote Australia despite its challenges.

“By valuing mental healthcare and those who wish to provide that service, we can hopefully attract more health professionals into the field. We need more of them all. As it stands currently, our workforce is at crisis point, and our community is at a crisis point.”

 

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