For many of us it’s a comfortable life in our major Cities. Sure, we tend to moan and gripe about the traffic and the daily commute, but things are accessible. Shops are usually open 7 days a week and many of the larger chains are now open 24 hours a day. Public transport is on the up and large-scale investment is being made into infrastructure such as road and rail. Apartment blocks are going up a pace and if, like me, you live in Sydney you are never too far from the beach or the local pub. Uber is our new taxi, biking around the place is getting easier and apart from the rise in the cost of a flat white our larger cities seem to have a going for them.
But, head into the regions and our rural areas and life is a lot different which begs the question of whether we appreciate the struggle of our fellow citizens in places outback. Last year I went on a road trip to regional New South Wales and while life appeared to be good when you peel back the surface you see communities, towns and people struggling every day with things all of us take for granted.
First, some figures – around 7 million people, or about a third of Australia’s total population live in rural areas and on average they do not enjoy the same standard of health and well being many of us in the cities take for granted. Breaking those figures down further one in five (20%) lived in inner regional areas, one in 10 (9%) in outer regional areas and around one in 40 (2.3%) lived in remote or very remote areas (1.5% remote and 0.8% very remote). Those in remote or very remote areas are more likely to be Indigenous, and a greater proportion of those in very remote areas live in multi-family households. And here are some figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare:
Australians living in remote or very remote areas have mortality rates 1.3 times higher than those living in cities.
54% of people living in rural or remote areas have one or more chronic disease compared with 48% of those in major cities
The rate of deaths due to land transport accidents is 5.4 times as high in rural and remote areas as in major cities
The rate of suicide is 1.7 times as high in remote areas as in major cities
With the appointment of a new Rural Health Commission by the Australian Government and a greater focus around investing in building a primary and secondary health response we also need a reality check. Years of under investment and a lack of understanding on behalf of city dwellers around the challenges face by our regions needs to be addressed. Sane Australia’s Sarah Coker told the ABC in 2017 that "We know from the research that 50 per cent less money is spent on mental health services in rural and remote Australia, so access to medical help is compromised.
"In addition, travel times to get help are very high and there is still a stigma around mental illness in many smaller communities," she said.
"There is plenty more work to be done, particularly in rural and remote areas, in spreading the word about the need to talk about these issues, to talk about your feelings."
And its not just about having conversations there is also the very real need to have a consistent approach as Professor David Perkins from the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health says:
"What we know is that when you have a fire or a drought or a flood everyone helps out, but several months down the track the bills mount up and people get more and more distressed and upset," he said.
"We are encouraging them to have a look at local help, particularly when there is a three-week wait to see a GP.
Camilla Kenny in Cobar (Rural Adversity Mental Health Program) said at the time that the prolonged drought followed by driving floods remained an issue: "People are having to make big decisions like selling stock and they worried about how they can make ends meet, what assistance is available, and they are talking to the bank.
"They are obviously stressed and anxious and are looking at trying to manage things like fodder supplies, hand feeding, irrigation, water storages or destocking.
"In addition to that everyone is on the look out to see that their friends and neighbors are okay, making sure people are not too isolated and offering help or advice" Ms. Kenny said.
So, what are some of the solutions we need to look at and drive? Building our health, mental health and suicide prevention infrastructure in our regions needs to be a priority as well as encouraging the need to have conversations. The establishment of local networks where communities respond to community need are also fundamental if we are going to reduce the rates of suicide as well as increasing access to support services – even if those services are based in our cities (the challenge of workforce supply). When it comes to support we also need to have a conversation about building the capacity of our non-GP and medical workforce – the counsellors and support workers that are desperately needed also need to be a focus.
My message? Don’t forget the regions and lets have a conversation about what a workforce development plan looks like for the very Australian’s that need our support – regional and remote Australia.
If you or someone you know is dealing with suicidal thoughts, you can call beyondblue on 1300 224 636, Headspace on 1800 650 890, Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467, or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. If it is an emergency, call 000.
About the author: Matthew Tukaki is the Chair of Suicide Prevention Australia, Chair of NewsNow and the EntreHub and former Host of the widely popular radio show on 2UE 954am Sydney, Talking Lifestyle Second Career. You can follow him on Facebook or on Twitter.
You can’t go past a news paper, radio show or television news story these days without being flooded by all things Bitcoin or Crypto Currency. Some say it’s the new world of money while others suggest its all just a passing fad. Whatever your position or preference of...
This week I announced a suite of measures for the Government to consider when it comes to small and medium sized business and what we can all be doing as we start to look at emerging from the COVID19 lockdown. The reality is that a good number of small business owners,...
As someone who has been working in suicide prevention for some years now i know that often having a simple conversation can make all of the difference when a loved one is doing it tough. COVID 19 and the lock down tends to amplify how we feel when we are isolation or a...
We know that mob out there are uncertain as to what the COVID-19 / Corona Virus means for them – this can cause us all to panic and some in community more so that others. Panic attacks can compound the situation so we gather some information about what you can do now t...
Don’t forget our elders can suffer in silence too: suicide prevention
Many people think that mental health and suicide are not topics that impact our elders but they could not be more wrong. The data tells us there continues to be an emerging trend when it comes to peop...