Health experts call for more local funding

THE key to bridging the isolation gap for Gladstone's transient workforce is simple - more money.

Two of the area's health experts yesterday added their voices to the call for more regional Queensland mental health funding yesterday.

Mental Illness Fellowship state branch chief Tony Stevenson and Gladstone GP Superclinic doctor John Bird said current support services did not meet all the psychological needs of the thousands of workers on major projects in the region.

An APN special investigation reveals 605 matters were heard in the central Queensland Mental Health Review Tribunal sittings last financial year.

Dr Bird said isolation from families was having an impact on the city's part-time residents.

"There's a fair bit of isolation and the sort of things that isolate people are the lack of extended families," Dr Bird said.

"The fact that there aren't that many grandparents to assist makes the significant difference in terms of childcare and this puts more pressure on home carers in relationship to looking after children.

"The second thing that is a big factor in terms of isolation is that people fly-in fly-out.

"There's thousands of people flying in and out and so in that sense they're isolated from family and support structures, and there's very significant hours being worked on the big projects that consume, say, 60 hours a week of people's time.

"So there's very little energy to put into relationships by the time you get home."

Dr Bird said it was important to support people with mental health problems before they entered the public system.

"Services are very limited - there's not really a good access for people with mental health problems," he said.

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The Mental Illness Fellowship, which provides support to hundreds of residents across the region each week, said fixing problems at the grassroots level would lower costs for the city's base hospital.

It costs about $500,000 a year for someone to stay in a hospital mental health bed but $7000 to $10,000 a year to help people manage psychological problems at home.

Mr Stevenson said more housing, family and life skills support would reduce the move into clinical services for most people with mental health problems.

Mental Health Review Tribunal president Barry Thomas backed the call for more funding.

"Mental illness has always been the poor cousin but over recent years it's received substantial inputs," Mr Thomas said.

"It's a serious illness that really hasn't received the recognition it deserves.

"One and a half times as many people suicide every year as are killed in car accidents and another 60-odd thousand attempt suicide.

"If you had an illness that killed that many people you'd have a massive injection of funds.

"It's not that everything needs the Rolls Royce (of funding) - we need well-targeted funds to deal with complex areas."

A spokesman for state Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said the government had invested $130.35 million to progress 16 capital works projects providing 259 new or upgraded beds for acute and extended stay treatment.

"Combined with Commonwealth capital funding for an additional 99 beds, we will deliver nine new community care units across the state with completion expected by mid-2015," the spokesman said.

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