Mental Health in the Bush: Access a fifth the rate of city

Date published

26 Aug 2019

RFDS research published today by the Medical Journal of Australia, reveals there is little difference in prevalence of mental illness between city and bush, yet poor service access, distance, cost and continued reluctance to seek help, all contribute to higher mental illness acuity and suicide rates.

The dearth of dedicated clinical mental health support and intervention services in remote Australia, dissuades many people from seeking help until they are in crisis.  Residents of very remote areas are twice as likely to die from suicide as those living in metropolitan areas. Many patients in rural and remote areas must travel more than 60 minutes to reach acute medical services and those who need more intensive psychiatric or addiction care do not have service access without RFDS aeromedical retrieval.

Between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2017, 2257 patients were retrieved by the RFDS for treatment of mental or behavioural disorders, including 1394 males (62%) and 863 females (38%); 60% of patients were under 40 years of age; and 35% identified as Indigenous Australians. Most retrieval sites were rural and remote communities with low levels of support for mental disorders.

Indigenous Australians are 1.2 times as likely to die from mental disorders as non-Indigenous Australians; 1.7 times as likely to be hospitalized for mental disorders; and, Indigenous young people aged 12-24 years are 3 times as likely to be hospitalised with a mental disorder as a non-Indigenous young person of the same age.

The authors, led by Dr Fergus Gardiner, Director of Research and Policy with the RFDS concluded that “in the absence of access to local dedicated mental health support and intervention services, many patients seek clinical assistance only when in crisis”.

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