Real solutions for improved rural and remote mental health services

11 February 2015

The rate of suicide in rural areas is 66 per cent higher than in major cities - stark proof that many people are not getting the mental health support they so desperately need.

This tragic suicide rate in rural areas is in part attributable to the fact that there are fewer GPs (typically the first port of call for people experiencing mental illness) and mental health professionals. For example, the number of psychiatrists and psychologists in rural areas is, respectively, 40 per cent and 60 per cent of what it is in major cities.

Where help is available, it is not always taken up. People in rural areas are more likely to hold back from seeking help for fear of the stigma sometimes associated with mental illness, and their 'rural stoicism'. As a consequence, mental illness may be diagnosed and treated later in its course,  potentially increasing the risk of self-harm.

The disparity in the rate of suicide between city and country people is particularly marked among some population groups. Farmers, for example, are twice as likely to die by suicide than the general employed public. The rate of suicide among young men living outside major cities is twice as high as it is in major cities. And, the suicide rate among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is five times higher than that for young non-Indigenous Australians.

These data strongly suggest that action is required to address the problem. The National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) is seeking action on proposals that will help to turn things around for these vulnerable groups. The proposals are to:

  • introduce Medicare rebates for telehealth services delivered by psychologists;
  • continue mental health first aid training for Rural Financial Counsellors; and
  • in consultation with Indigenous experts, speed up the availability of culturally-appropriate online mental health resources specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, perhaps using Aboriginal Health Workers with special training in e-mental health.

“These proposals are cost-effective and practical measures that would make a real difference to the health and wellbeing of people living in rural and remote Australia”, said Gordon Gregory, CEO of NRHA.

The NRHA will join Mental Health Australia today in a series of meetings with Federal Members and Senators to raise its concerns regarding rural and remote mental health services, and to urge continued action on mental health.

Media Enquiries: 

Gordon Gregory (Chief Executive) 02 6285 4660    

Anne-marie Boxall (Senior Policy Officer) 0421 696 765