ALCOHOL abuse, isolation and a lack of access to treatment are major factors affecting the mental health of people in regional areas such as the Shoalhaven.
These were some of the findings when a panel of three experts shed light on the crucial issue of mental health in rural, regional and remote areas in a special media briefing on Thursday.
Dr Fiona Shand, senior research fellow and clinical psychologist at The Black Dog Institute, University of NSW, Dr Liz Temple, lecturer in psychology and expert in cannabis and other substance use, Federation University, Associate Professor Jane Burns, Founder and CEO of the Young and Well CRC spoke at the Drugged and depressed: mental health in country Australia briefing.
Dr Shand said the percentage of people with alcohol and mental health issues that are male increasse with remoteness.
“It is 75 per cent in NSW, 80 per cent in rural areas and 90 per cent in remote areas,” she said.
When asked why rural areas had higher rates of depression, other mental health issues, substance abuse and self-harm and suicide among young people, Dr Shand said youth un-employment and drought were among the causes.
“There are also changes in people’s lives, the necessity for people to leave home and seek employment, which causes people to lose their social networks, and that there are not the services that are available in the city,” she said.
Dr Burns said the stigma surrounding mental health and loneliness were big obstacles.
“Some people are incredibly connected in country communities, but others don’t fit in and lose their sense of social disconnection,” she said.
“Also, at the age of between 18 and 30 there is uncertainty about what people’s lives will look like, where they are going in life and what life support is available.”
Dr Shand said “risky drinking” was a major factor in country areas, and Dr Temple said alcohol was still the substance that posed the biggest problem and that many started to drink at around 15 and 16 years of age.
“The level of intoxication is higher, as people are drinking to the point of vomiting and passing out,” she said.
The doctors were asked what could be done in areas where it can take up to two months to get to see a GP.
“It is important for high schools to have youth workers and counsellors, and this is also where online services will become more important,” Dr Temple said.
Dr Shand said it was important to realise what a wide and varied sector of the community was affected by mental health issues, self-harm and suicide.
“It is impossible to predict who is going to take their own life,” she said.
“It needs to be treated like cardiovascular disease and motor accidents.
“There needs to be a holistic approach – that is the only way to address the issue.”