Royal Flying Doctor Service research shows country mental health access a fifth the rate of city

Professor Jane Burns.

Professor Jane Burns.

New research has revealed people living in rural and remote areas die from suicide at twice the rate of those in the city yet have far less access to help.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) research, released in June, also identified farmers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as among those most at risk of suicide.

And while Australians living in remote areas are dying at double the rate they are only able to access mental health services at a fifth of the rate of people in the city.

It’s these relentlessly damning figures that see leaders in mental health and suicide prevention crying out for greater innovation in addressing the country’s crippling death toll.

Professor Jane Burns, one of the keynote speakers at the Albury-Wodonga Winter Solstice on June 21, is helping to pioneer some of the answers.

The woman who helped lead the youth agenda for beyondblue and was the founder of the Young and Well Co-operative Research Centre believes technology offers help-seeking solutions for some of our most isolated and vulnerable residents.

Help people are either unwilling or unable to access.

Professor Burns isn’t suggesting technology replace the “therapeutic relationship” provided by personal contact with therapists or medical specialists.

It’s more about accessing care than replacing it.

“There are smarter ways to get the supports in place to wrap around a person no matter where they are or their state of health,” Professor Burns said. “Clearly people are not getting the right care at the right time.”

RFDS chief executive Martin Laverty said while its research showed no difference between the prevalence of mental illness in the city and the country, there were “dramatic differences” in how sick people became.

“Poor service access, distance, cost and continued reluctance to seek help all contribute to higher mental illness acuity,” Mr Laverty said.

Technology has the ability to cut through factors like time, distance and cost to streamline access to help that is tailored to an individual, according to Professor Burns.

“We have been awareness-raising for decades and it’s just not working,” she said. “We need to be brave and change what we are doing.”

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