Counselling services for anxiety and depression are at a minimum waiting list of six weeks in the Whitsunday region.
Counselling services for anxiety and depression are at a minimum waiting list of six weeks in the Whitsunday region. Lorenzo Antonucci\ iStock

Time is of the essence for mental health

WHITSUNDAY residents trying to access mental health services are facing a minimum of six weeks wait for counselling services.

Rural Doctors Association Queensland president and Whitsunday Doctors Service practitioner Konrad Kagru said the region had shortages of federally funded mental health programs.

"While we have some excellent private psychologists, patients are facing lengthy waiting times,” Dr Kagru said.

"Patients who have an acute mental illness, for example those who are suicidal; they will get immediate attention and if presented at the emergency department will be assessed straight through to the hospital.

"However, depression and anxiety patients are facing a minimum six weeks wait.

"It's frustrating for those patients when there is a long waiting time as it does act as a barrier to receiving timely health care.”

However Dr Kagru stressed there was help available for those struggling and not to let wait times discourage patients seeking help.

"While waiting times exist, GPs will see patients more frequently to keep a close eye on them.

"Good online resources exist like Beyond Blue, the Black Dog Institute, Head Space and Lifeline.

"There is an important new program being rolled out as the Federal Government has expanded the mental health service funding - in a telehealth delivery system.

"While psychologists will still need to see clients for some face-to-face visits, some illnesses can be managed through excellent online resources and sessions to alleviate the bottleneck of resources and wait times.

"Every patient has different needs and different methods of suitable treatment.”

Dr Kagru said in the wake of Cyclone Debbie many locals were left feeling exhausted and frustrated.

"While Cyclone Debbie may have precipitated for a lot of people some underlying mental illnesses or may have tested their resilience, we can't say Debbie caused an increase in mental illness,” he said.

Northern Australia Primary Health Limited, which contracted by North Queensland Primary Health Service, provides psychological services to the region. Senior director of mental health services Phil Ihme, said the waiting time issue was a complex one.

"What funding we receive through the Department of Health is determined by the department and the primary health service and what we receive dictates what we can deliver on,” Mr Ihme said.

"There is only a certain amount of funding to deliver to a particular region,” he said.

"When the number of people requiring services is much higher ... there will always be issues around wait times.

"It's not a particular problem to the NAPHL. For example if you live in Germany the wait time is six months.”

Mr Ihme said mental health had always been an underfunded area and sector reform was aiming to improve it.

"We have been working with NQPHN, trying to address those issues and be as accessible as we can,” he said, "We work tirelessly to provide the best service we can by working with GPs, the community and commissioning body to provide mental health care to the Whitsundays.”

Mr Ihme said the region was a unique catchment area and struggled with being remote.

"People come here to study and then go back interstate; we don't attract and retain the workforce we support by doing placements,” he said.

"I think reform is a long- term process and it is something we are striving towards.”

Mr Ihme detailed the step-to-care approaches goal was to understand what patients needed in hospitals and private service, and then match people with their specific needs.

"Everyone was getting same service,” he said..

"For example if we had 100 people coming through; a person might need some support, but can also do some online self-help.

"That would be sufficient for some people, so the other three to four (people), who need a more intensive care can be referred on quicker.

"The other two or three who need access to something else, free up some resources to deal with the bottleneck.

"Basically prior to the step care - everyone got the same care and now the idea is that everyone gets individualised care for what they need.”