A shortage of psychiatrists is contributing to the crisis in mental health services in rural and remote Australia, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) has said.
‘People in rural and regional areas should have the same access to mental health support as people in the city,’ said acting RANZCP President Associate Professor John Allan.
During the 2016 federal election, the RANZCP warned of this crisis in the availability of psychiatrists and other mental health services to people in Australia’s rural and remote areas. In major cities, there are around 15 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, while in some remote areas there are only 1.4 psychiatrists per 100,000 people.
‘There are not enough psychiatrists as it is, and of the ones that we do have many are not working in the areas of greatest need. It is therefore no surprise that in rural areas mental health issues such as anxiety and depression go untreated, and suicide rates have continued to rise,’ Associate Professor Allan said.
‘As medical doctors who specialise in treating people with mental illness, psychiatrists play a key role in treating and supporting people with a wide range of mental health conditions, both in hospital and community settings.
‘The inequitable access to psychiatrists in rural and remote areas means that treatment for people experiencing mental illness in these areas is disjointed, and psychiatrists are less able to respond to peaks and troughs that can precede crises.
‘Incentives for doctors such as, flexible working arrangements, locum services, rural training pathways and additional item funding through the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) are just some of the practical solutions that would improve mental health in rural and remote areas.
‘E-health and telepsychiatry can also help psychiatrists and mental health professionals reach patients in more isolated areas.’
‘Psychiatrists in rural and remote arears tend to be more isolated, have heavier workloads, greater travel burdens and more limited resources in regional hospitals.’
‘If we are to attract more psychiatrists to rural and remote Australia then the Federal Government needs to provide more support for doctors and the challenges they will face,’ Associate Professor Allan said.
The RANZCP has developed a Position Statement on Rural Psychiatry which outlines the challenges of mental health practice in rural areas.
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The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is a membership organisation that prepares medical specialists in the field of psychiatry, supports and enhances clinical practice, advocates for people affected by mental illness and advises governments on mental health care. For information about our work, our members or our history, visit www.ranzcp.org.