Radio interview - 7AD - Senate Inquiry into the Accessibility and Quality of Mental Health Services in Rural and Remote Australia.

SUBJECTS: Senate Inquiry into the Accessibility and Quality of Mental Health Services in Rural and Remote Australia.

MARTIN AGATYN, PRESENTER:  We all think we could do with better mental health services but there’s a crisis regionally isn’t there and that’s what’s prompted this committee.

SENATOR HELEN POLLEY: Yes there is. We’ve received over 130 submissions and the committee has travelled throughout Australia and now we’re fortunate enough to have our hearing tomorrow in Devonport. And then on Thursday they’re going over to St Helens as well. We’ve been given evidence from professionals and people in the sector that there is a high level of need in rural and remote Australia for better mental health services. There’s a real issue around retaining staff and to break down the stereotypes people have around mental health.

AGATYN: We’ve known for a long time that issues in rural areas are a lot more prominent and we’re seeing it now with the drought in NSW and Southern QLD that there’s been talk of how badly it’s affecting people there. It never goes away does it?

POLLEY: It never goes away and I think it’s very timely because there are a lot more things we can do to make sure we have a skilled workforce and that we use modern technology as well. But it’s also about knowing your community and having the confidence to open up. I think the other big issue is getting on to these issues early. We are all aware of the droughts and there is a lot of intervention but it’s the on-going care that we also need to be mindful of.

AGATYN: We can’t have mental health clinics in every town so how big a role do organisations like Alive and Well, Lifeline and Beyond Blue play in regional and rural mental health?

POLLEY: They play an enormous role and to give you an idea about the witnesses appearing before us tomorrow – we’ve got the Community Response to Eliminating Suicide, Primary Health Tasmania, we’ve got Cornerstone Youth Services, the Mental Health Council of Tasmania, Relationships Australia and Flourish. We need all of these people involved and those organisations that are on the ground are best serviced by having ongoing support because that’s one of the issues confronting these organisations.

AGATYN: I think these days there is probably more pressure in life than there ever has been before but it’s hard to say how much our mental health issues have increased because we didn’t talk about it in the past.

POLLEY: Well that’s right. We still have to encourage people to talk about these issues and how to recognise when someone is in trouble. This is why initiatives like RU OK are important to ask people. Particularly at this time when there are droughts and we know that unfortunately men aren’t always the best to open up about their issues. But it’s ok to ask “are you ok” and then to have the knowledge for where you can turn someone to get that help. It goes right across the age spectrum and we’ve got issues with youth suicide as there is right around the country. We need to make sure we alleviate as much pressure as we can and to let people know they’re not alone.  

AGATYN: The hearing is in Devonport tomorrow and from what you’re saying, you’ve got a structured set up so it won’t be open to public submissions. But can people come along and observe?

POLLEY: Yes they certainly can come along. We’re meeting in the Aberdeen Room, 137 Rooke Street.

AGATYN: in the Parnaple Centre?

POLLEY: Yes that’s right and we encourage people to come in. It’s a good experience to see how a Senate Committee actually conducts itself. A lot of work goes into these Senate Committees and as I said we’ve had in excess of 130 submissions. The Report is going to be handed down in October and we are really looking forward to tomorrow and going down the east coast tomorrow.

AGATYN: You’ve answered the next question which is what the next steps are after this. What time is the hearing tomorrow in Devonport?

POLLEY: It starts at 8.30am and will go through until 3.15pm.

AGATYN: Terrific, we look forward to the results in October. Helen thanks for your time this afternoon I really appreciate it.

POLLEY: Thank you very much for your interest.