Mental health services need to be more accessible and appropriate for young people living in rural and remote areas of Australia, a report from youth mental health organisation Orygen has found.
The report, Fit for purpose: improving mental health services for young people in rural and remote Australia, found that despite the unique mental health risk factors experienced by young people living in rural and remote areas, including isolation and environmental events such as droughts and bushfires, they have limited access to mental health services.
The report determined that, although the extent of mental ill-health experienced by young people living in rural and remote Australia was largely unknown, evidence from organisations such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service suggested that between 2014 – 2017, service demand had increased.
Professor Patrick McGorry, executive director of Orygen, said although it was difficult to measure the extent to which young people living in rural and remote settings were experiencing mental ill-health, it was known that rates of suicide increase with remoteness.
“For many young people in rural and remote Australia primary health professionals, such as GPs, are the only health providers they have access to,” Professor McGorry said.
The report noted that GPs, nurse practitioners and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers needed to be better supported to provide mental health care to young people. Further, they needed to understand the particular risks faced by young people and be able to provide an appropriate level of care, Professor McGorry said.
“We are calling for innovative responses to support primary health services to provide mental health care and improve young people’s access to services,” he said.
Rose, a young person from Busselton, Western Australia, said for a young person living in rural areas, there can be little to no knowledge about what mental health services are available, and even those services that do exist seem out of reach due to a myriad of social, economic and geographical barriers.
“Also, the stigma of ill mental-health often seems heavier in rural and remote areas, making taking those first steps towards help even harder,” she said.
“We consulted with young people, service providers and stakeholders to understand the issues that need to be tackled. We identified three key areas that must be addressed to build on existing policies that have the potential to improve mental health care for young people,” Professor McGorry said.
“These include establishing headspace outreach services in regional centres; making telehealth MBS items permanent for young people aged 12-25; and, in the absence of a GP, accrediting lead primary care providers such as nurse practitioners and Aboriginal health workers to write mental health treatment plans.
“We need to trial these new initiatives in local contexts to identify solutions that can then be implemented more widely. In doing so, we will move further towards giving young people in remote and rural areas improved access to mental health services that are not only appropriate and acceptable to them, but are the mental health services they deserve,” Professor McGorry said.