FAIR GO: Tough battle to access mental health services

STARTLING figures show we have higher suicide and self-inflicted-injury rates than Brisbane, but we have fewer psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health nurses than metro areas.

Data has revealed how big the gap is between Gladstone and city areas when it comes to mental health.

Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showed major cities had more than double the number of psychiatrists per head than inner regional areas.

The most recent data, from 2014, showed major cities had 16 psychiatrists for every 100,000 people while inner regional areas, which includes Gladstone, had just six.

Cities also recorded 92 psychologists per 100,000 while inner regional areas had 55.

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Through our Fair Go campaign, the Observer is calling on the Federal Government to address the mental health services gap between regional and metropolitan areas.

National Rural Health Alliance chief executive Kim Webber says it is more difficult to access mental health care outside cities and that could partially explain why there are higher suicide rates in regional and rural areas.

Figures from the Social Health Atlas of Australia show Gladstone recorded 11 suicides and self-inflicted injuries for every 100,000 people compared to 10 in Brisbane in the four years between 2009 and 2013.

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Ms Webber said the rate of mental illness was fairly similar between cities and regional areas but those living outside metro areas faced a tougher battle accessing services, including seeing a GP to get a referral.

"Mental health issues can be urgent and sometimes your symptoms can come and go, so having to wait two to three weeks to see a GP is difficult," she said.

Ms Webber also said Medicare expenditure per head on mental health in rural areas was 60% of what it was in cities.

MENTAL HEALTH: Mindworx says stats don't accurately reflect Caboolture. Photo Contributed.
MENTAL HEALTH: Mindworx says stats don't accurately reflect Caboolture. Photo Contributed. Contributed

She said it came down to GP visits; if you need access to a service, you see a GP or psychologist. But if there are none available, then patients cannot access those services.

"Really the health budget is saving that 40% by the fact that we can't access those services," Ms Webber said.

She suggested that money could instead be used to employ more psychologists or mental health workers where needed.

Beyondblue policy, research and evaluation leader Dr Stephen Carbone said suicide rates for men were much higher outside city areas.



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