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Senate inquiry into rural and remote mental health recommends strategic approach, investment in workforce and community led approaches, particularly in First Nations communities

The senate has today tabled the Community Affairs References committee report into the Accessibility and quality of mental health services in rural and remote Australia.

“Myself and Senator O’Neill referred this issue to inquiry after the Royal Flying Doctor Service released a major report sparking a national conversation around the state of mental health and services in rural and remote regions, Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens spokesperson on mental health said.

“One in five Australian will experience mental illness in any year and over a lifetime, almost half of all Australians will experience mental illness. People living in remote and regional communities are less likely to seek mental health treatment than their city counterparts and are accessing medicare subsidised mental health services at rates three times lower than those living in major cities.

“We held 16 hearings in rural and remote areas and heard from a range of people from diverse backgrounds, including mental health consumers, farmers, miners, First Nations peoples, local councils, teachers, nurses, doctors, academics, and committed volunteers at the front lines of suicide prevention.

"One clear message that came from these very distinct communities was that the voices and experiences of local communities are not being listened to in service design and delivery.

“Across these diverse and remote regions we have heard  that what is sorely lacking is an overall work force strategy, culturally appropriate services for First Nations communities that are delivered by First Nations peoples and that without commitment to block funding, services are ad-hoc and there is no reliable treatment. The committee makes 18 recommendations.

“I am deeply concerned by the accounts we received that many rural and remote Australians have experienced issues applying for the NDIS and accessing appropriate mental health services through their NDIS plan.

“These issues included a deficit of knowledge about the NDIS by health professionals; assessors, planners and service providers inexperienced in psychosocial disability; and a lack of appropriate support services.

“I hold serious concerns about the short-term nature of funding cycles, noting the large number of mental health service providers facing uncertainty in funding. The competitive tendering process favours city-based organisations with the capacity to provide rural and remote services at a financial loss.

“The removal of block funding for long-established services creates significant risk for the individuals and communities who have voiced genuine concern that no service will be available to them if rural or remote communities are forced to implement the current NDIS model.

“I urge the Government to implement the 18 recommendations we make to ensure we improve access to mental health services in rural and remote areas."

The report and reccomendations are available here. 
 

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