Regional post-COVID mental health crisis

·2-min read

The demand for regional mental health services has spiked since the coronavirus pandemic, forcing many psychologists to close their books because they can't keep up.

It's been described as a ticking time bomb by some in the industry who say while it's a nationwide issue, the problem is amplified in regional and rural areas.

According to the National Regional Check In, a report commissioned by the Australian Counselling Association, more than two thirds (68 per cent) of those living in rural and regional Australia experienced depression and anxiety over the past two years.

For close to one in four (23 per cent) it was a regular occurrence.

Fuelling the issue, many have suffered in silence because they could not access the help they needed.

Philip Armstrong, CEO of the Australian Counselling Association and Adjunct Senior Industry Fellow at the University of South Australia, said more than a quarter of those those living in rural and regional areas had to wait four to six weeks to see a psychologist or psychiatrist.

One in seven was waiting more than seven weeks or more to access support, he said.

"Almost a third of Australians live in rural and remote areas, however 87 per cent of psychiatrists and 82 per cent of psychologists are employed in major cities," Mr Armstrong said.

"And sadly, the further from the cities you go, the higher suicide and self-harm rates are."

He said registered counsellors and psychotherapists are a qualified and under-utilised part of the mental health workforce who could provide immediate support to those in need and play a key role in helping to address the current crisis.

But those services are not covered under the Medicare Benefits Schedule, limiting access to everyday Australians.

Lez Hall, 45, from Katherine in the Northern Territory became separated from his wife and ended up incarcerated on and off again from 2012 to 2021.

He was not offered counselling or rehabilitation.

In 2021 he re-offended again and the judge ordered him to enter rehabilitation and receive counselling.

He's now rekindled his relationship with his wife and children and wants others to have the opportunity to get counselling.

"Services are essential for most indigenous people, they need help to break the cycle when it comes to drug and alcohol addiction, counselling and services should be free of charge as most re-offenders can't pay as they live in poverty," he said.

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