ADJOURNMENT – Mental Health

Mr PASIN (Barker) (19:45): I rise today to discuss mental health in regional communities. Mental health is, of course, one of the government’s national health priorities, and as this is Mental Health Month it presents a good opportunity to reflect on the issues we face as a society as we turn our minds to how we can help those in our community who are at risk of suffering from mental health issues.

Those of us, like you, Mr Speaker, who live outside metropolitan cities in rural and regional Australia are a proud bunch. And so we should be. We make a massive contribution to the wealth of this great nation, and it’s often a contribution which goes relatively unnoticed and unthanked. The Australian spirit is strong amongst rural and regional citizens, but isolation and lack of services have unfortunately led to a significant disparity in the rates of mental illness and outcomes. For example, Mr Speaker, you might not be shocked—although it shocked me—to learn that farmers are twice as likely to die from suicide as the generally-employed population.

Last week, Country SA PHN launched a new counselling service for regional and remote South Australians. This initiative helps to address one of the key health priorities of our government. Regional Access is a free service available 24 hours a day, seven day as week to anyone over the age of 16 who lives or works in a regional or remote area of South Australia and who is feeling the pressures and stresses of everyday life. Regional Access will be staffed by professional, trained counsellors who are ready to listen, support and encourage. They will provide individual strategies to best manage situations and provide further support as needed. Regional Access is available to anyone who has a concern, a worry or just wants to chat. It’s available 24/7 to support people at their time of need. The counsellors will focus on people’s individual situations and develop strategies to manage the situation that the person who has made the call finds themselves in. People can have up to three 30-minute sessions with the same counsellor. Online mental health interventions including self-help and exchanges with clinicians have proven benefits. For someone suffering from depression and anxiety, digital services can be as effective as face-to-face sessions. But, if needs increase, this service will refer people to be seen by a local face-to-face psychologist under a priority referral.

This service will provide a welcome boost to local mental health services and demonstrates the federal government’s commitment to ensuring mental health support is provided to the people who need it in the communities they live in. Regional Access bridges the gap and allows everyone access to counselling when they need it most. With South Australians having access to professional counsellors 24 hours a day, seven days a week from anywhere in the state, we will see, hopefully, a removal of one of the impediments that put many off seeking help. My hope is that people in Barker will embrace this new service.

While I have some time, I will refer, in this Mental Health Month, to some other fantastic services that are delivered federally into my electorate of Barker. I highlight headspace, which operates from Mount Gambier, from Berri in the Riverland and in Murray Bridge. To have three of these services operating in my electorate for people under the age of 24 gives me some comfort that young people who are struggling with issues, who are dealing with mental health stresses and strains, have a place to go. For those over the age of 24, can I commend to you the Riverland Division of General Practice, which operates both in the Riverland and—it would seem counterintuitively—in Mount Gambier, providing counselling services in a face-to-face, direct manner for people in my electorate. It’s the same service, coincidentally, that in Mount Gambier provides rehabilitative counselling services for those who are suffering from drug and alcohol abuse. It’s creating in Mount Gambier a one-stop shop for people who are dealing with drug and alcohol abuse and psychological sequelae. In this Mental Health Week, I’d like to thank the staff who make all this possible.