Mental health services in rural and remote areas needs a complete overhaul according to the National Rural Health Alliance, which has found there are only two psychiatrists for every 100,000 people in remote Australia.

NRHA undertook new analysis on the prevalence of mental health professionals in country regions, as part of its submission to the Senate inquiry into the Accessibility and Quality of Mental Health Service in Rural and Remote Australia.

It found there were just two psychiatrists for every 100,000 people in remote Australia, which the submission noted was deeply concerning.

“The key issue in relation to mental health service usage is that people in rural and remote areas have less access to mental health services, particularly psychiatric and psychological care services,” the submission said.

“As a result, emergency departments in local hospitals are used as the access point for mental health care by people in country areas.”

The analysis also found that in major cities there were 120 psychologists for every 100,000 people, but this dropped to just 25 psychologists in very remote areas.

For mental health nurses the split was 94 for every 100,000 people in cities, compared to 29 per 100,000 people in very remote areas.

Mark Diamond, the CEO of NRHA, told Pro Bono News that these areas found it hard to attract and retain medical professionals.

“Generally speaking we find it difficult in country areas to actually recruit across a range of health professions, particularly in allied health professions,” Diamond said.

“There’s actually been quite a good improvement in relation to the distribution of general practitioners, certainly into regional areas and even in remote and very remote areas.

“But there’s big variations in the distribution of mental health nurses, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists and even psychiatrists when it comes to very remote locations.”

While NRHA’s submission made seven recommendations, Diamond said there were two immediate priorities.

“Most immediately we need to have additional resources and funds to actually establish positions,” he said.

– Luke Michael

Read more: Rural and Remote Mental Health Services in Need of Overhaul

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