A Sunday Age article ‘Cyber counsel for rural youth’ (23/10) reported the benefits of a new e-counselling service for youth in rural areas which, in itself, is a wonderful development for young people. However, it neglects to mention one extremely important problem with this initiative:
It has come at the expense of a number of successful community-based programs, whose funding has been cut to pay for it.
While the Minister for Mental Health insists to be tackling the problem of rural mental health with its e-health initiatives, the new budget has in fact cut funding from other rural mental health services already in place. Take the Burdekin in North Queensland where I live as just one example:
The Burdekin Shire has a population of over 18,000 people spread across a very large agricultural area. The main town is Ayr with a population of 8,500 people. The Burdekin Community Association has been trying for years to get a Headspace centre located in Ayr, however this will not happen because Headspace do not go into towns with a population of less than 10,000.
Yet in the last round of Federal mental health funding, three highly successful community-based programs in the Burdekin had their funding cut with no replacement programs or services in return: CORES (Community Response to Eliminating Suicide), Burdekin Mental Health Foundation and Burdekin Community Association Youth Support Services.
This leaves just four alternatives for Burdekin people who require mental health support:
- Local GPs (Better Access)
- One part-time psychologist who travels down from Townsville (Better Access)
- Qld Health Community Mental Health Service located at Ayr Hospital consisting of two social workers who service not only the whole of Burdekin Shire but half of the Whitsunday area too, comprising a total population of approximately 30,000 people.
- Travel to Townsville or Mackay (if possible) to access their already extremely overloaded mental health services.
With the Federal Government set to cut funding to the Better Access program from November 1, the outlook for Burdekin people is grim.
It is a desperate situation on the ground in rural areas and I cannot get excited about “e-headspace” because I know what it has truly cost rural people, which is access to effective, face-to-face, community based mental health care.
You can support rural Australians who are going to be affected by signing our online petition and sending an email to the Prime Minister about your view on the cuts to face-to-face psychological services.