CRISIS : The Federal Government must address the  services gap between regional and metro areas.
CRISIS : The Federal Government must address the services gap between regional and metro areas. justinkendra

Suicide rates soar outside city borders

STARTLING figures show we have higher suicide and self-inflicted injury rates and more distressed residents than Brisbane.

Data has revealed just how big the gap is between Tweed and city areas when it comes to mental health.

Figures from the Social Health Atlas of Australia show Tweed recorded 13 suicides and self-inflicted injuries for every 100,000 people compared to 10 for every 100,000 in Brisbane in the four years between 2009 and 2013.

Data for 2011 to 2013 also shows for every 100 people in Tweed, 12 were highly or very highly distressed, compared to nine in Brisbane.

There were also 15 people in every 100 with mental and behavioural problems compared to 13 in Brisbane in the same period.

Through our Fair Go campaign, The Tweed Daily News is calling on the Federal Government to address the mental health services gap between regional and metropolitan areas.

National Rural Health Alliance chief executive Kim Webber says it is more difficult to access mental health care outside cities and that could partially explain why there are higher suicide rates in regional and rural areas.

Ms Webber said the rate of mental illness was fairly similar between cities and regional areas but those living outside metro areas faced a tougher battle accessing services, including seeing a GP to get a referral.

“Mental health issues can be urgent and sometimes your symptoms can come and go, so having to wait two to three weeks to see a GP is difficult,” she said.

Ms Webber also said Medicare expenditure per head on mental health in rural areas was 60% of what it was in cities.

She said it came down to GP visits; if you need access to a service, you see a GP or psychologist. But if there is none available, then patients cannot access those services.

“Really the health budget is saving that 40% by the fact that we can’t access those services,” Ms Webber said.

She suggested that money could instead be used to employ more psychologists or mental health workers where needed.

Beyondblue policy, research and evaluation leader Dr Stephen Carbone said suicide rates for men were much higher outside city areas, which could come down to cultural differences, stigma surrounding mental health, isolation, loneliness and access to services.

He also said there was room for improvement when it came to having an even spread of needed mental health professionals in regional and rural areas.

Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showed major cities had more than double the number of psychiatrists per head than inner regional areas and more than quadruple the number than outer regional areas.

The data, from 2014, showed major cities had 16 psychiatrists for every 100,000 people while inner regional areas had six, outer regional areas had four and remote or very remote areas had only three.

In November 2014, the National Mental Health Commission found the country’s mental health system had “fundamental structural shortcomings” and said there was an unmet need for people living in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia.

Last year the Coalition government announced a reform with several elements including a plan where local Primary Health Networks would decide on what services would best suit their needs.

Labor said it would extend the scope of regional health services through PHNs and would commit to the commission’s target to reduce suicides by 50% in the next 10 years.

—ARM NEWSDESK

If you or someone you know needs mental health support, contact:

  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • beyondblue: 1300 22 4636
  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
  • Mensline: 1300 78 9978
  • Counselling Online for alcohol and drug concerns: www.counsellingonline. org.au
  • Headspace (for youths): 1800 650 890, email or go to headspace.org.au to find a local centre


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