Rural doctors and rural general practices are playing a significant frontline role in meeting the burgeoning need for mental health care services in the bush, but better supports are required to ensure they can sustain and further enhance this care.
That's the take home message coming from the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) during Mental Health Week 2016.
RDAA President, Dr Ewen McPhee, said while ensuring access to other mental health professionals and 'next level' care are important elements of the mental health system and must be improved, better supporting the primary care sector and rural general practices to boost frontline mental health services would "help enormously" in meeting the growing demand for mental health help in rural and remote Australia.
"Mental health has fast become one of the biggest areas of practice demand for rural doctors and rural practices, and this is building as recognition grows that your mental health is just as important as your physical health," Dr McPhee said.
"Rural and remote doctors consider it crucial that they meet patient need in this area, and it is great to see more doctors undertaking additional training in advanced mental health care, to be able to meet patient need for a higher level of care.
"But it is important for our governments to understand that while this area of practice demand is growing, other areas of practice demand do not stop.
"Additionally, and understandably, patients with mental health concerns often require a longer consultation, and they sometimes need more urgent appointments.
"We would urge governments to provide additional support to enable practices to employ, for example, in-practice counsellors or additional doctors — even if part-time — to be able to focus on the mental healthcare load. Or it may enable a practice to establish an expanded facility or room to enable the enhanced delivery of this service.