Farmer calls for mental health reform

Hannah Borland, who works on a dairy farm at Lindenow and is featured in the 2024 Gippsland dairy farmers’ mental health calendar; Sallie Jones, co-founder of Gippsland Jersey; and guest speaker Joe Meggetto, of Warragul, who featured in the 2018 calendar.

Dairy farmer and mental health advocate Joe Meggetto is concerned about the slow implementation of recommendations from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s mental health system.

In March 2021, the final report was released and the Victorian government undertook to fully implement all 65 recommendations.

“I was invited to Parliament House for the Royal Commission’s report, and I wanted to know, where is the money going,” Joe said.

One of the key recommendations was the establishment of Adult and Older Adults Mental Health and Wellbeing Services, scattered across Victoria.

The service hubs are meant to be an easy entry-point for people 26 years and older, seeking support to prevent, manage and recover from mental illness.

They are being established because a key finding of the Royal Commission was that local services would fix many problems in the system, and enable people with mental illness who need support to access that within their own communities.

By the end of 2022, six service hubs were set up — in Benalla-Wangaratta-Mansfield, Brimbank, Frankston, Greater Geelong-Queenscliffe, Latrobe Valley and Whittlesea.

In late 2023, the Victorian Government announced further hubs would begin operating in the new year — in East Gippsland, Greater Bendigo-Loddon-Campaspe, Greater Dandenong, Greater Shepparton-Strathbogie-Moira, Melton, Mildura and Yarra Ranges.

In East Gippsland two hubs will be established, at Bairnsdale and Orbost. An additional Gippsland hub is expected to be opened later in the year at Leongatha.

Gippsland Lakes Complete Health CEO Anne-Maree Kaser said GLCH partnered with Wellways Victoria and Latrobe Regional Health to tender for the service at Bairnsdale and Orbost, and delivery of psychosocial support to clients would build upon GLCH’s allied health and other clinical services.

The hub will host psychiatry and psychology clinicians and peer support workers.

Anne-Maree said while face-to-face support was preferred by many people, the challenge of recruiting the right people into remote and rural regions would also be met with other modalities.

“The pandemic taught us we can use other modalities to deliver health care, such as online modes,” she said.

“We’ll certainly be able to provide telephone support from early 2024 through these hubs.”

Anne-Maree said East Gippsland was chosen in the second round of funding because of the high incidences of mental distress self-reported in the region, supported by high call-out rates for domestic violence intervention.

“East Gippsland is number three in Victoria for reported incidences of domestic violence — Victoria Police receive more than 40 call outs in any week,” she said.

“There is a high rate of mental distress being self-reported in the region.

“Hearing about the pressures that farmers are experiencing, it shouldn’t surprise us that we see the incidences of that in family violence, and in people increasing their alcohol and drug use to feel better.

“In East Gippsland, there is less access to services and support. Evidence shows the more remote a population is, the worse health service delivery is because of a lack of clinicians.”

But Anne-Maree also believes therapists need to have lived experience for the people they are helping.

“It’s very important to us that we recruit people who understand the pressures being experienced by our local communities, including our farming communities,” she said.

When Joe was diagnosed with depression, it was at a community event where he underwent a health check.

The health worker was concerned enough about the results to encourage him to seek further help, including making an appointment to see a counsellor.

“At my first appointment, I knew I was seeing the wrong therapist,” Joe said.

“They didn’t know anything about farming, and nothing about dairy farming. So they didn’t understand what I was talking about.”

Joe didn’t return to that therapist, although he did seek help from his GP, who was also a farmer.

“What I’ve found is that talking about my mental health journey is therapy for me,” he said.

Joe’s view is that mental health services, especially counselling services, need to be delivered by a diversity of people.

That includes recruiting people with an understanding of farming and the pressures of food production.

“We’re all embarrassed to identify with mental health challenges. As much as I can, I recommend people find the right person to talk to,” Joe said.

The Commonwealth government has also recently announced funding for psychosocial support service programs, to increase people’s access to enhanced primary mental health services.

Tenders for this program delivery closed in November 2023.

In early December 2023, the Commonwealth government also announced funding for multidisciplinary healthcare delivery in rural and remote communities.

Queensland’s Southern Downs region was a recipient for the funding, through the government’s Innovative Models of Care program, to provide outreach mental and physical health services through Killarney Medical Centre to Yangan, Mt Colliery, Legume and Tannymorel.

The funding focus will be on recruiting clinical resources and services into communities in recognition of the local population’s needs.

“By strengthening community bonds and promoting proactive healthcare, we can serve as a model for better health in rural regions, and inspire positive change in our communities,” Killarney Memorial Aged Care heath care manager Dannielle Hersant said.

“Our community healthcare initiative aims to transform our rural community, setting a precedent for better health outcomes that can be replicated in communities across Australia.”

The government has committed $24.7 million over four years to the IMOC program, to trial new ways of delivering multidisciplinary primary care in rural and remote communities.