Rural South Australians struggling with mental health issues are waiting up to 12 months to see a psychologist in their local area.
The alarming statistic came to light at the Jamestown Show Q&A earlier this month, raised by local doctor Simon Jackson from Goyder's Line Medical, which services Jamestown, Peterborough and Orroroo.
"Faster access to psychology and counselling services in rural areas is critical to improve mental health outcomes," Dr Jackson said.
"Psychology is proven to be the most effective measure for mild to moderate mental health problems, rather than medication.
"And in severe mental health problems, psychology is important in conjunction with appropriate medication. Wait times of 12 months are clearly detrimental to the recovery process for anyone suffering mental health issues."
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Dr Jackson said wait times for counselling services for people in the Goyder's Line Medical service area was about 12 weeks. Skype appointments had a minimum wait of at least three weeks.
Dr Jackson said the lack of qualified workforce available to rural people was the key factor.
"There is a massive imbalance between the number of health professionals in city and rural areas, not only GPs, but also psychologists, and all other allied health professionals," he said.
"For example, there are 60 training positions for rural GPs in SA and so far, we have only managed to fill 24 of those positions. For two positions in Melbourne there have been 21 applications."
He said better strategies to recruit health professionals to rural areas was critical.
"We need to be promoting all health professionals to do some of their early training in rural areas," he said.
"We may end up with only a small percentage returning as a result of this exposure to rural communities, but that will be better than the situation we have at the moment."
Dr Jackson said another challenge was the lack of coordination of government and independent mental health service providers.
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Mid North Suicide Prevention Network member Greg Boston agreed.
"Whilst governments at both federal and state level have good intentions, I have learned that delivery of services are very fragmented and confusing to both the layperson and health professionals," he said.
"This is clearly not a desirable outcome for people already struggling with mental health issues - this needs to be addressed."
Legislative Council president Andrew McLachlan, also on the Q&A panel, agreed that navigating mental health services was difficult.
"When I have assisted people in the community, I have likewise found it challenging to head them in the right direction," he said.
"However, it is difficult, as there are many groups with fantastic intentions, seeking a voice and funding.
"We are conscious that for every person who wants to centralise services in a generic fashion, there is another person who says they have a great idea in their community, and they want support for that."
Dr Jackson said another factor contributing to delays was administrative issues surrounding the referral process and affordability for patients, given government rebates have not kept up with inflation, let alone the increased cost in provision of medical services.
Member for Grey Rowan Ramsey said fragmentation of mental health services was a risk, and agreed getting health professionals to work in rural areas should be a priority.
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