The Treasurer dubbed mental health a national priority in the budget speech and announced $2.0 billion in funding for the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan over the next four years. He also said, “It goes to the heart of who we are as Australians, helping those who need it most”, but it appears he’s forgotten some of the very people that need mental health support the most.
The state of mental health in rural and regional Australia had been described as a crisis for years. This crisis is not new however, 18 months of natural disasters including droughts, fires, floods, mouse plagues and the impact of COVID-19 on regional areas have had devastating impacts.
Suicide rates in rural and regional areas are 50% higher than in Australian cities. This rate increases with remoteness and suicide rates in regional areas are increasing faster than those in urban areas. Despite these alarming statistics the words ‘rural’, ‘remote’ and ‘regional’’ are not mentioned once in the discussion on the new mental health measures in the budget (pp117-120).
$111.2 million has been allocated over four years to expand and enhance digital mental health services however it is not specified how much will flow to urban vs rural areas. The reality is with digital connectivity and phone reception across many of these areas, individuals cannot consult with professionals, let alone call services like lifeline when in crisis.
If complemented with improved phone and internet connectivity this funding could benefit rural areas. Further funding is allocated for upgrading digital connectivity in certain areas however it is not enough to combat the current crisis in regional Australia.
With no funding specifically for rural and regional mental health it appears that the very people that need mental health assistance the most are being forgotten.