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  • Rural GPs psychological skills training helps patients impacted by bushfires & COVID-19

    Author: Health Times

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is boosting the skills of GPs in rural and remote Australia so they can better help patients with mental health concerns.

The RACGP’s accessible online training upskills GPs so they can provide Focussed Psychological Strategies (FPS) and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)-derived counselling to patients. The next intake opens on 31 August 2020.

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GPs who have completed the training have helped rural patients during times of great difficulty, including bushfires, floods and the COVID-19 pandemic.

RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements underwent the training to help his patients after devastating floods struck his community in Townsville.

“In the weeks following the disaster my role quickly changed to a flood counsellor, as well as a GP. I did the training because I saw the need for more mental health support for patients.

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“Patients will rely on their GP as a sounding board and confidant. Whether they’re going through a crisis or just not feeling okay, patients often turn to their GP for support.

“This training will be particularly beneficial for GPs in rural and regional areas – we tend to see greater demand for mental health care from patients, and there is often no nearby specialist mental health services.

“It’s also particularly timely, as the COVID-19 pandemic is having a huge mental health toll on patients.”

Dr Ai-Vee Chua, a GP who practices in Dubbo, New South Wales, said: “It’s marvellous that the RACGP offers rural GPs the opportunity to gain additional skills in mental health care.”

“Psychological issues adversely affect the wellbeing of so many of our patients. Beyond the emotional impacts, there are often additional impacts on our patients’ physical health conditions, personal relationships, work and finances.

“For example, a patient may be struggling despite their best efforts to control their diabetes, weight or chronic pain conditions. It is not uncommon to find that underpinning these struggles are anxiety, depression, stress, grief or other psychological issues. Being able to help a patient address their psychological issues can also help them to successfully manage their physical conditions and improve their overall wellbeing.

“In recent times, additional stressors have impacted on the emotional wellbeing of our rural populations. People in our region are still suffering the impacts of years of drought conditions, and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic these last few months has fuelled anxiety and depression, created financial stress, forced people to change work and study plans, and brought on extra worries about loved ones.

“Where I am, there is limited access to local psychiatry support, and timely access to affordable psychological support is often difficult. On top of this, within our rural communities there remains a certain stigma around mental health conditions, particularly for farmers, older people and the blokes we look after. This can make it tough for people to acknowledge that they have a mental health concern and to seek help, or for patients to accept referrals to psychiatrists and psychologists.

“So in terms of both accessibility and acceptability, people may find it easier to visit their trusted GPs to receive counselling and, if needed, advice on medications that will help with their emotional wellbeing.

“I’m looking forward to the rollout of the next tranche of the RACGP Psychological Strategies course. It’s great that our GPs have this opportunity to build higher level skills and confidence to fill the gaps in mental health services in our communities.”

The RACGP’s online training is delivered through a combination of online technology, peer group learning and locally available resources, so GPs can gain new skills while remaining in their practice and local community.

The training includes:

  • the latest best practice for antidepressant prescribing and non-pharmacology treatment options
     
  • CBT to treat common issues like depression and anxiety
     
  • GP support to begin applying CBT derived FPS counselling to their patients
     
  • mental health carer and consumer perspectives

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