As I write this letter to you, I am hearing the news of growing cases of COVID-19 from Sydney’s Northern Beaches outbreak.
The impact this is already having on family Christmas plans is devastating for those waiting to see their loved ones at this time of the year. I personally have family in lockdown over Christmas following their return to Adelaide after a short visit to Sydney. This reflects the uncertainty we have all faced in 2020. The effect on our mental health cannot be underestimated. No doubt COVID fatigue is now creeping in as we long for some stability.
For those living in rural and remote parts of Australia, 2020 has brought mixed experiences. For some, COVID has provided opportunity for family reconnection and re-establishing bonds of kinship as travel is restricted. It has also brought new insights into balancing work with family and personal time.
For others, loss of employment or business, uncertain futures and limited opportunity for improvement has dominated this year. Again, our rural communities are where we see this most clearly. From the bushfires and drought to the economic impact of COVID, country folk have done it tough. The recent trade restrictions on our primary produce by the Chinese Government has added further stress.
Rural & Remote Mental Health is presently conducting a national survey and we are seeking your feedback about how this year has affected you and your community. We want to understand how rural and remote Australians have been affected and can best be helped. We will ensure your voices are heard by State and Federal governments and the corporate sector, seeking help and support and directing it to where it is needed.
One of the most obvious disparities is access to professional health services. For many of you, access to medical professionals is limited and even GP wait times can be weeks and kilometres away. Even so, statistics show that less than 1.5% of the rural and remote population accessed telehealth services. So the Federal government’s $5 billion dollar telehealth investment provides much less benefit to the 30% of Australians who live in the regions than it does their metropolitan counterparts.
The recent Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health provides us with an opportunity to contribute to the national conversation on the future shape of mental health services and supports in Australia. Importantly, the scope of the report covers social determinants such as housing, employment and community networks. We see this as a critical inclusion as we look beyond the current medical service delivery model and examine how rural communities can help themselves and each other. Supporting communities to become more self-reliant and sustainable is an important step forward in addressing mental health in our regions – and it’s something we will be advocating for in our submission reply to the Commission’s report. If you have any feedback you would like included in our submission, please email us. Alternatively, you can comment directly on the Commission’s website.
I would also like to thank those who have worked tirelessly this year to keep RRMH active.
Our wonderful presenters who have delivered workshops, our Kind Minds volunteers who provided direct support in their communities, our staff who have worked tirelessly to adapt our programs where possible, our sponsors and donors who have provided vital funds, and all those rural people who supported us through a difficult year. From us to you – thank you!
It is very important to acknowledge that this can be an emotional and challenging time of the year for many people. We have included important contact details should you or anyone you know wish to seek support. Take care of yourselves and those around you, be kind and on behalf of all of us at RRMH, I wish you a safe and peaceful Christmas. Let’s all hope for a more stable 2021.
If you’re experiencing emotional or mental distress, please contact:
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
- MensLine: 1300 789 978
- Brother2Brother: 1800 435 799 (for Aboriginal men)
- 1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732 (for sexual assault and domestic family violence)