One of the Border's leading eating disorder clinicians has been recognised with a national award for her commitment to delivering education and care in rural and regional areas.
La Trobe University clinical and health psychologist Leah Brennan has been named the recipient of the 2023 Australian Psychological Society's Significant Contribution to Rural and Remote Communities award.
Professor Brennan, based in the School of Psychology and Public Health at the Albury Wodonga campus, has been a passionate advocate for boosting pathways and accessibility in regional areas.
The eating disorder study, called ED10, has paired clients with provisional psychologists from La Trobe's Bundoora and Wodonga campuses for a 10-session intervention and treatment program via both telehealth and face-to-face interactions.
She said the award was fantastic recognition of her team who are "really invested in this work".
"The reason for being in this role is to make a difference," Professor Brennan reflected.
"It's exciting and important for rural and remote psychology to be recognised.
"I believe this award recognises that there are lots of psychologists and mental health practitioners doing really great work, often in less-than-ideal circumstances, and they are trying to bridge the gaps."
With rural and regional areas short on health professionals, including GPs and psychologists, this has far-reaching effects on communities, according to Professor Brennan.
"We know that the longer it takes for people to access help, the harder it is to recover and the impacts are greater," she said.
"The other thing is that because people are less likely to be able to access mental health care in rural areas, the stigma increases.
"We need to normalise the need to seek help to improve outcomes for people."
Professor Brennan, who back in the day had to travel to Melbourne to study psychology, is embracing the opportunity work back in her local community.
"I hope this award raises the profile of rural psychology training, which is addressing the skills shortage in regional areas, with pathways available for students locally at La Trobe University.
"We know at any time there are multiple unfilled roles in our local region."
Professor Brennan was judged on four categories including education, special projects in rural settings, clinical work and research.
"What can we do to ensure that someone living in the country is getting the best available care, not second-best support and treatment, compared to those in metropolitan areas," Professor Brennan asked.
Getting local people to train locally and get to work immediately in their local community could make a "big difference" in changing those outcomes.