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Submission to the Consultation on Improving Mental Health Services in Country Australia

The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia welcomes The Greens’ consultation paper on Improving Mental Health Services in country Australia. Access to mental health services in rural, regional and remote parts of Australia has long been overlooked by government. PACFA agrees with The Greens’ position that it is unacceptable that 30% of Australians have poorer mental health outcomes than other Australians, and lack access to essential mental health services because of where they live.

Distance, geographic isolation and insufficient funding are central drivers for the lack of mental health services in rural, regional and remote areas of Australia, and for the inequality in health outcomes in these areas. Distance and geographic isolation also underpin three other key issues identified by PACFA: workforce shortages, unequal distribution of funding, and the level of stigma associated with mental illness, which can be particularly high in country areas.

A significant issue in country Australia is the shortage of qualified practitioners for the mental health workforce. In this submission, PACFA argues that counsellors and psychotherapists are part of the solution to these workforce shortages, and that our approach aligns with the whole-of-person approach to mental health and wellbeing recommended by The Greens.

PACFA supports The Greens’ approach to improving mental health services in country Australia and provides concrete suggestions, supported by evidence, to address gaps in service delivery and to improve mental health outcomes. These include:

  • Increasing the capacity of the mental health workforce by including more counsellors and psychotherapists;
  • Improving the targeting and effectiveness of existing programs such as the ATAPS program (Access to Allied Psychological Services) and the Better Access Initiative;
  • Developing a rural and regional workforce plan, which should include clinical supervision and debriefing for all health and community staff providing services to people at risk of suicide; and
  • Investing in suicide prevention training and counselling skills for all front-line workers.

Recommendations

PACFA puts forward four key recommendations which are explained in the full submission:

1. Expand the mental health workforce in country Australia by including counsellors and
psychotherapists as key allied health professionals to work in government and non-government
health services, and to be referred to as private practitioners.

2. Provide clinical supervision and debriefing to all health and community staff providing services to
people at risk of suicide, to ensure the helpfulness of their response, to minimise the risk of
detrimental responses and to assist with the emotional burden they are exposed to in their roles
as health professionals.

3. Provide suicide prevention and risk assessment training for all staff working in emergency
departments and community health services. Such training should include counselling skills.
Ideally, this training should be incorporated into the formal education courses for all health and
community workers.

4. Include suicide prevention training and counselling skills in training and degree courses for
community workers, counsellors, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists and
mental health nurses.

CLick here to download the submission