UPPER Hunter residents are being asked to participate in a mental health survey, which aims to locate gaps in mental health services available in rural areas and prompt further funding for mental health and wellbeing initiatives throughout the Shire.
Commissioned by the Where there’s a Will Foundation (WTAW) in partnership with the University of Melbourne, survey results will be given to government, schools, local councils, community groups and sporting clubs, to determine local needs and allocations of mental health funding.
General practitioner at Scone Medical Practice Dr Larissa Burke, said access to mental health services could be improved, as there are currently no public outpatient services in Scone and long wait times in the mental health private sector.
“As GP’s, we see the majority of people that have mental health problems…other main avenues include school counsellors, youth workers and private psychology services,” Dr Burke said.
“There are long wait times, especially in the private sector and in terms of access for younger people to psychology, there are no specialised services in the township of Scone or Muswellbrook,” she said.
“There’s an emergency programme that is run through the hospital, with 24-hour rural assessment through telehealth…really that’s for emergencies, so there’s not a lot in-between,” she said.
“The adolescent and child phycologists who are more specialised, are based in Newcastle and Maitland…which means travel distance for the person and that family and then it’s the waiting times as well, which are all issues for rural communities everywhere,” said Dr Burke.
Dr Burke said although there has been an increase in mental health awareness, some people may still be hesitant in accessing mental health services.
“In Scone, I would say we are seeing quite a number of younger and adolescent people not just adults,” Dr Burke said.
“I think there is definitely an increase in awareness in mental health, WTAW has done a great job in increasing that generally but I think hesitation in accessing help in a timely manner is still a problem, particularly for some people who still feel there is a stigma attached and other various reasons,” she said.
“I think sometimes accessing help for young people, there can be issues where they are not particularly upfront with their family, or talking about it openly and therefore accessing help through a GP service is difficult,” she said.
Dr Burke hopes the survey outcomes will lead to an increase in access to psychology services and professional help.
“We should be encouraging all parents and carers, whether they’ve got previous history with mental health or not to take the survey, so we can get an accurate snapshot of all of the information and informed decisions can be made,” Dr Burke said.
“I hope that it will mean that we can have an increased number of services and access to services that would not just treat mental health, but both prevent mental health issues developing and support those with minor issues as well, I think that’s a big gap,” she said.
“I’ve certainly seen COVID-19 have an impact on the increased present number of presentations of mental health issues…perhaps that will be a confounding factor in this survey, but it’s important for us to come forward and talk about those issues as well,” she said.
Dr Norman Jawaad, who practices in Merriwa, Muswellbrook and Denman said authorities need to have a clear picture of the specific needs of the Upper Hunter community.
“This survey will give us firm statistical data that will prove to the government that the need for mental health services is actually much higher than what their assessment tells them,” Dr Jawaad said.
“The government doesn’t have a clear picture of the mental health issues for our area…there is a huge lack of services,” he said.
“Basically, it is an eight week waiting time to see a GP, then another two months to see a psychologist and often that involves a drive to Maitland and Newcastle because many of our local psychologists have had to close their books…it is terrible,” he said.
“That’s just in the private sector..it is months to get in to any of the government services in Muswellbrook and there is no follow-up,” said Dr Jawaad.
WTAW founder Pauline Carrigan said taking the survey is a great way to assist the foundation.
“Dr Jawaad is on the frontline dealing with mental health issues every day and like so many of our medical practitioners he is desperately frustrated by the lack of support and services available to people in the Upper Hunter,” Mrs Carrigan said.
“Taking 15 minutes to complete this survey will allow us to direct the help to where it is most needed,” she said.
“We’re constantly meeting with businesses, governments telling them what is needed, the data from this survey will help provide the proof for our arguments,” she said.
All responses to the survey are entirely confidential and the survey is non-diagnostic, meaning it doesn’t ask for sensitive information through questions about sexuality, alcohol or drug use, self harm and suicidal thoughts.
For more information regarding the survey, visit www.uhwherethersawill.com.au.
You can take the survey here.