MENTAL Health Week is a time to reflect on the wellbeing of rural and remote communities and people throughout Australia.
Often the first point of call for patients in the country regarding mental health care is their local general practitioner (GP).
Encouragingly, more and more Australians are recognising that their mental health is equally important as their physical health and seeking help from GPs.
Australians living in rural areas are at higher risk of such mental health issues compared with those living in urban settings.
There are a number of factors at play including increased geographic isolation and reduced access to specialist mental health services.
The type of work can also play a large role with farmers and local business owners experiencing higher rates of uncertainty and potentially increased financial pressures.
In small towns or communities, the pressure to “keep soldiering on” is ever present.
Some shy away from getting help, fearful of someone finding out that they aren’t coping.
Additionally, the stigma of reaching out for help also prevents some from accessing mental health services.
The “tough country bloke/lass” image is often portrayed in the media, but doesn’t recognise stress, depression and anxiety that can lie underneath.
In recent times, organisations and individual health professionals have worked to break down this facade by talking to sporting clubs and groups.
In this way, we hope to use small town networks to our advantage and assist those of us who are vulnerable to seek help.
Other friends, local GPs and support services are all there to help those amongst us who are struggling at times.
However, parts of rural South Australia are in dire need of increased psychology services.
Rural GP groups are calling on the state and federal governments to address this shortfall.
But you don’t have to start straight away by seeing a health professional.
Simply asking a co-worker, family member or mate, “are you OK?”, is a great first step in starting the conversation.
It’s worth asking and being proactive, you never know what a difference it might make.
Dr Gerry Considine
Past president of Rural Doctors Association of SA