OVER the years Rebecca Cameron and Grant Schultz have been exposed to a lot of mental health issues.
The couple saw it when they both worked for the Australian Federal Police in Canberra. They saw the devastation of it when Grant’s brother committed suicide two years ago. And they again saw it when their teenage daughter, who suffers with anxiety, was unable to get help in their coastal hometown, Mollymook.
After moving to Mollymook from Canberra 10 years ago the married couple began to realise the lack of options in rural towns such as Cootamundra, where Grant’s brother had lived, and now, Mollymook.
When their daughter failed to connect with the only local counsellor in town, they hit a roadblock.
“We don’t have a lot of options in Mollymook and we’re an hour away from a reasonable town centre,” Rebecca says.
“When I contacted a service provider in Nowra they never got back to me. I was forced to look further afield in either Canberra or Sydney for this particular kind of counselling.”
It was hard for Rebecca, 48, and Grant, 55, who could see their daughter suffering but didn’t have the tools to help her.
As a last resort, Rebecca called Kerry Howard, a Canberra-based psychologist who she’d met when living in the ACT.
As it happened, Kerry had just founded Rural Help, a program delivering online psychology and counselling services to individuals across Australia.
“I started it because in November, 2017, the Federal government changed the rules about being able to deliver online services,” Kerry says.
Kerry believes it’s important to provide psychological support anywhere in Australia.
“I’m also aware that suicide rates are on the increase in rural areas,” she says.
“Often our experiences in rural communities can be quite isolating.”
Rebecca says Rural Help’s services have really helped her daughter cope with day-to-day issues.
“For her, it’s enabled her to go to school and be able to interact and have a reasonable teenage life,” she says.
Motivated by expanding services such as Rural Help, Grant decided he’d run as an independent candidate for the NSW seat of Gilmore in the upcoming Federal election to address issues such as the lack of adequate and available resources for people struggling with mental health in rural areas.
“I want to be proactive and look towards legislative support around these issues,” he says.
“I’ve lost too many friends, including my brother.
“My brother suffered with mental health issues for over a decade.
“He was able to get some support locally, but when he needed intervention, good, solid support, he had to go to Canberra, if he could, but more often to Sydney.
“He would drive for hours. On many occasions, although his mental health was deteriorating, he often didn’t seek help, he didn’t think he needed it. And then on the occasions where he sought it, it was very difficult to access.”
It’s difficult for Grant to know if his brother would still be here if he had better access to professionals, but what he does know is that increased support reduces the risk of self harm.
“We need to invest in prevention,” he says.
“I’d like to see a lot more support prior to getting to a critical point.
“Blokes, particularly, are reluctant to seek out help when it’s needed.
“The online program is a great innovation and I’d love to see a broader trial rolled out.
“Men and women are often reluctant to visit a doctor but if we have an online resource available it makes it easier. We have an NBN for a reason, so I think we should use it.”
Grant says it’s particularly game-changing for farmers.
“They work seven days a week, 365 days a year and then, for them to have to drive two hours to get support – it’s impossible,” he says.
According to Kerry, the preliminary research she did last year indicates the online services are more effective.
“The change seems to happen quicker when we’re working with them from home,” she says.
“I had people travelling from Wagga Wagga or the south coast but now I can treat these people online.
“Rural Help practitioners are located all across the country. Someone from Tasmania could be treated by someone in the Northern Territory.”
Not only are the practitioners from across Australia but they all specialise in providing a variety of therapeutic approaches.
“By embracing technology, I hope that we can provide more services to the people who need them.
“In turn, supporting our rural communities to continue to do what they do best – feeding the nation.”