The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has urged rural and remote healthcare workers to look after themselves and take advantage of new mental health resources.
Last week the Federal Government announced that a new $3 million mental health support unit is available for healthcare workers through the Black Dog Institute. People in rural and remote communities, including healthcare workers, often experience challenges when accessing appropriate mental health services.
Recent data suggests that the rate of access to mental health care services remains at just 20% of those who access equivalent services in metropolitan areas.
RACGP Vice President and Chair of RACGP Rural A/Professor Ayman Shenouda said it was vital for rural and remote healthcare workers, including GPs, to take advantage of the new resources.
“If any healthcare worker has concerns about their mental health please reach out and use this mental health support unit right away. This is something the RACGP has been fighting strongly for and it will make a real difference.
“There are many underlying causes of mental health issues, it is a very complex area. However, it is certainly the case that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed extra strain on many people including our hardworking healthcare workers.
“The vast majority of people have respected and listened to the advice of health professionals. However, I have heard reports of some patients abusing and even spitting on general practice staff. There is of course the added stress of knowing that as a healthcare worker you are at higher risking of contracting COVID-19 yourself.
“Research is emerging from all over the world that healthcare workers treating people with COVID-19 are reporting substantially higher rates of psychological distress. So if you are part of a small community where the pandemic hits you can only imagine what it must feel like to be a healthcare worker on the frontline.
“GPs in rural and remote communities can also feel more uncertainty and pressure about how they will handle managing the pandemic in their area due to limited resources and workforce numbers, as well as distance from other specialists.
“For example, if you work in a remote town that only has one small hospital you would constantly be thinking to yourself – can we handle an influx of people with COVID-19? What if some of them require ventilators and we just don’t have enough?
“So this can all add up and place a real strain on healthcare workers when we need them the most.”
A/Professor Shenouda said that the new support unit will be especially valuable for healthcare workers based outside of major cities.
“The scheme is set up so that it is all done over the phone and online so you don’t have to drive miles and miles to take advantage of it.
“In some rural and remote areas there may not be many mental health support services available, so this scheme is really important for healthcare workers in the bush.
“Whilst it is important not to generalise too much I think that in some rural communities there is great worth placed on stoicism and a belief that you can simply work through periods of depression or anxiety on your own without seeking help. There is a certain stigma attached to putting your hand up and saying that you need help.
“But we must combat this attitude because we are all human beings and there is absolutely no shame in getting help for any mental health concerns. Many people, including all types of healthcare workers, have gone through what you are experiencing and with help have come out the other side.
“So I say to the entire rural and remote healthcare workforce – if you need to talk to someone reach out because it could make all the difference. Please remember, it is not a sign of weakness to seek help.
“Also, why not check in with your colleagues and see if they need a hand? During this pandemic we are all in this together and need to look out for each other.”
There are also mental health resources for GPs available on the RACGP website.