DOCTORS have referred 10,000 people to Grampians Medicare Local’s Mental Health Script Program in the past 13 years.
Mental health team leader Barry Sherwell said demand for the program, which started in 2001, was greater than ever.
“In the past 12 months, more than 1300 people from the Wimmera and Pyrenees area have been referred to the innovative and responsive program by general practitioners,” he said.
“This is the largest yearly total ever received.”
But the program’s future is in doubt.
The Federal Budget revealed new Primary Health Networks would replace Medicare Locals from July next year.
Grampians Medicare Local leaders will meet Member for Mallee Andrew Broad today to discuss the change.
“We don’t know how much of Victoria a Primary Health Network will encompass or how to retain much-needed mental health services,” Mr Sherwell said.
“GPs who refer to us and people with mental health issues urgently need those answers, too.”
He said 99 general practitioners in the Wimmera and Pyrenees made referrals to the Mental Health Script Program.
The program provides counselling support to rural residents from Beaufort to the South Australian border, north to Hopetoun and across to Maryborough.
More than 20 sub-contracted private psychologists, mental health social workers and counsellors provide counselling to 14 towns.
Three Grampians Medicare Local psychologists and a social worker also assist.
Despite rising demand for mental health services, Mr Sherwell said the rate and severity of mental illness in the Wimmera and Pyrenees was comparable with other parts of Victoria.
“It’s just that we are such a sparsely populated area that it is difficult to get treatment to where it is needed,” he said.
Warracknabeal doctor Franklin Butuyuyu said he was surprised when he moved to the Wimmera to find mental health support was ‘scattered’.
He had previously worked in the UK’s National Health Service, where psychiatry and psychological services were well-entrenched and co-ordinated in communities.
“The presence of Grampians Medicare Local has helped to close this gap,” Dr Butuyuyu said.
“The loss of this valuable service would be devastating to the Wimmera community, which is already fighting many challenges, ranging from the devastating effects of fires, droughts and geographic isolation to other challenges of life common to the general population.”
Mr Sherwell urged anybody struggling with a mental health issue to seek help.
“Mental health problems are very treatable and there are services available across our region to provide support whenever it is needed,” he said.
“Depression and anxiety are no respecters of persons; young or old, rich or poor are equally likely to have a problem with their mental health at one time or another.
“The first step for people who are experiencing depression or anxiety is to see their doctor.
“Once a person’s referral is received at Grampians Medicare Local, it is allocated to the most appropriate counsellor in the town closest to where the person lives.”