Flying Doctor’s mental health services expand  to reach more remote communities

Flying Doctor’s mental health services expand to reach more remote communities

Date published

23 Jan 2019

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) is improving access to mental health services for people throughout rural and remote NSW thanks to new funding announced by the Liberal-National Federal Government last year.

RFDS South Eastern Section Chief Executive Greg Sam said: “The Flying Doctor has a long history in caring for rural and remote residents with mental illness. In response to growing demand for extra services, we are now able to offer more services to more communities.

“Remote Australians see mental health professionals on average at one fifth the rate of city people. Some parts of country Australia have no registered psychologists.

“Seeing a mental health worker can mean hours of travel, which is a barrier to getting help when it’s needed. The RFDS will now visit more communities, and offer more regular care than has previously been available.”

The RFDS mental health program operates in addition to the Flying Doctor’s emergency services and primary healthcare provided by RFDS doctors, primary health nurses, Aboriginal health practitioners and dental teams.

In the past 18 months, the mental health team in NSW has grown from just three staff to 15 with another five positions under development.

This includes counsellors, psychologists and mental health nurses, community engagement, peer and clinical support workers, trainees, and the Alcohol and Other Drugs (AoD) team. They bring a range of skills and experience to work across the broad spectrum of mental health.

“What this funding has allowed us to do is to fill the gaps,” said General Manager Health Service Development Jenny Beach.

“We now work with people right across the scale, from mild issues where they might be stressed, not sleeping or lonely, to more moderate issues that require longer term management, and helping people who have complex mental illnesses to manage the problem, make it better, or make sure it doesn’t exacerbate,” Jenny said.

The mental health team work from RFDS bases in Dubbo and Broken Hill, local RFDS facilities and they fly to remote clinic locations as part of wider outreach services. They also connect with patients over the phone, via online video chat, and Telehealth.

Communities who will continue to benefit from the mental health service are in Western and Far Western NSW including Dubbo and surrounds, Broken Hill, Ivanhoe, Hungerford, Innamincka, Louth, Menindee, Tibooburra, Wanaaring, Cobar and surrounds, White Cliffs, Wiawera, Wilcannia, Yunta, Pooncarrie, Moomba, Tilpa, Packsaddle, and stations throughout far west NSW such as Marrapina and Monolon.

The team is also working on a new model of mental healthcare which includes holding weekend wellness intensives in remote locations with activities like fishing, golf, yoga and a community dinner. After a successful event in Innamincka last year the team have been invited to hold a similar program in Louth in May.

The RFDS mental health team is also working in partnership with other organisations to ensure support is available throughout NSW.

“I am so incredibly proud of the service our Mental Health team provide, and their visionary plan for the future,” Jenny said.

“I’ve watched this team in action and I find it incredible the way they have engaged with these country communities and taken the stigma out of mental health. Tough men in the bush who live in that space where people never spoke about this kind of thing are now coming to us, and it warms your heart to see it.

“As the drought continues we’re going to have a massive need for the team out there, and as we are already present in those communities, we will be able to help when we’re needed.”

To access the RFDS mental health program contact your local GP or call RFDS Mental Health Nurse Vanessa Latham on 08 8080 3777. For emergency help, please dial 000.

In addition, if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, Mensline Australia on 1300 789 978 or the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

Media contact: Megan Reynolds, Senior Communications Advisor, Royal Flying Doctor Service (South Eastern Section) 0436 622 801