22 May 2020

Over the next six months, it’s likely we’ll see a significant wave of mental health issues in our local communities as a result of the stress involved with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The expected wave has been identified by experts like former Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

Our community has experienced the effects of this pandemic, including the fear and panic associated with it. Now we must ensure we have the mental health infrastructure and resources to address post-pandemic trauma, especially across regional Australia.

Professor McGorry has said that we’ll need to boost mental health capacity for the surge that’s coming in the same way that we have boosted supplies of intensive care beds and ventilators to cope with any surge in illness related to the coronavirus.

Regrettably, this will not be an easy task.

Our current mental health system is disjointed, inflexible, uncoordinated and needs to be better targeted. For some patients, there is barely any service between the GP surgery and the door of the hospital emergency department.

During a normal year, one in five Australians will experience mental ill health and we barely manage to provide adequate mental health services, let alone during and after a pandemic.

Because many services are centralised in major metropolitan areas, mental health services for Australians in regional and remote areas are even harder to access.

The rate of death by suicide is 66 per cent higher in regional and remote Australia than it is in the cities.

It was disappointing to see no specific targeted funding for regional and rural mental health services in the Federal Government’s National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan announced last week.

For too long, the mental health needs of regional and remote communities have been overlooked. This needs to change.

When Australians are not well, mentally or physically, there should be services easily accessible to them. At a time when we are getting through the COVID-19 pandemic, every effort should be made to ensure these are available regardless of where we live.

This opinion piece was first published by the Pyrenees Advocate and the Ararat Advocate.

If you or someone you know needs mental health support, you can get help at Lifeline 13 11 14 or Beyondblue 1300 22 4636