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Greater mental health training opportunities needed in rural Australia

A study into the training and development needs of mental health service providers, consumers and carers in rural Australia by the National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) reveals that there need to be more local training opportunities.

The survey, which received 393 responses, highlighted that while most had undertaken some level of training in mental health and wellbeing, more training opportunities need to be created for practitioners, consumers and carers in more accessible ways.

Difficulties in accessing training, the cost of training programs, and in many cases, not being employer-sponsored (despite being necessary to undertake their role) and a need for a deeper level of understanding of mental health were also highlighted.

"Although I've personally studied to fill any gaps I've noticed, my university training was insufficient for providing training in emotional dysregulation, strategies to help with alcohol and substance abuse, and general trauma," said one respondent.
Other areas flagged for more training included working with adolescents and children, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, suicide prevention and self-harm and dealing with severe and enduring mental illness.

Joanne Walker, Director Policy and Strategy Development NRHA, said the response to the survey indicates the need for significant and long overdue improvements in the quality and accessibility of mental health training for people living in rural and remote areas of Australia.
“Currently, mental health training is usually offered at the person’s own expense. It appears that there is no system, no bigger picture. It’s very ad hoc, individualised and a personal choice.

“For people in remote areas to access online courses, which is often the default these days, is reliant on quality internet connections.

“We know that this is problematic in some areas when the broadband is unreliable, particularly for webinars.”

The alternative face-to-face training is cost-prohibitive, as, in addition to course fees, there's also accommodation, travel, and time off work to consider.

For those who do travel to study, there is the burden of competing family priorities and time away from home.

Moreover, those who return home after receiving training often find that translating the knowledge gained into practice is problematic.  “So, they come back inspired, only to find they can’t change a thing. There’s no systematised approach to this,” said Ms Walker. 

“What was interesting about the survey is that we had people respond from outside the health sector, such as people working in primary schools or libraries.

“So, mental health training is a generalised need for people in rural areas not just for health professionals," said Ms Walker

Ms Walker said she hopes to present this submission at the Australian Rural and Remote Mental Health Symposium in Adelaide in October.

The survey formed the basis of the Alliance's submission to the Productivity Commission and can be found here.

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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.