WIMMERA health services are targeting social isolation in a bid to reduce depression and suicide rates in the region.
West Wimmera Health Service allied and community health manager Dr Martha Karagiannis said men aged between 30 and 40 and teenage males aged 15 and 16 were the most at risk groups for suicide.
She said farmers were of particular concern.
“Farmers really are a target group for us because they are socially isolated and are out on tractors by themselves all day long,” she said.
“It can be hard to get them to open up and get them to access services.
“But with technology these days, even out on farms, people have access to social media and connections – that is what has been lacking over the years.”
Social isolation is just one of the contributing factors highlighted in an expert reference group report on mental health.
The group has set a goal of slashing Australia’s suicide and attempted suicide rates by 10 per cent in four years and by 50 per cent in 10 years.
The group has also challenged the nation to reduce stigma towards mental health by 25 per cent over 10 years.
It wants people with mental illnesses to work and live meaningful lives.
Wimmera and Southern Mallee Mental Health Service clinician Tyson Burne said the targets were achievable.
He said reducing stigma around mental illness would be a key driver in preventing suicide.
Mr Burne said some Wimmera residents with mental illnesses faced discrimination, which included being reported to police for ‘unusual behaviour’.
“There is really no understanding of symptoms that are associated with mental illness and why people might do the things they do,” he said.
“There is a stigma associated with mental illness.
"A farmer who has been doing his job for years doesn’t want to be targeted or highlighted as having a mental illness.
“If people have a chest infection they can just go to the doctors and get antibiotics, but with mental illness it is a bit more complicated and is not so easily fixed – you can’t just take a pill and be fixed.”
Rural Northwest Health community and acute health acting manager Carolyn Barrie has worked in the health system for more than 30 years.
She said improving people’s physical health would have positive effects on their mental health.
“It is about eating less, moving more and joining a group,” she said.
“If we could get people to think about those three things we would improve people’s health and wellbeing on a whole range of levels.”
Ms Barrie said Victoria should follow the lead of other states where mental health issues are treated by a team of professionals.
“If someone comes to you in a crisis they often need to be seeing a range of multidisciplinary workers, which might be a counsellor, a financial adviser, a social worker and a psychologist or psychiatrist,” she said.
“It is very difficult to access that team in Victoria because the services are fragmented. In Victoria we might have just the one worker who is not necessarily backed up with the support of the others.”
People seeking support and information about depression and suicide prevention can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or SANE Helpline on 1800 187 263.