By Dominique Tassell
Mental health was a focal point at the last Southern Downs Regional Council (SDRC) meeting, with multiple pieces of correspondence included in the agenda and various councillors speaking to the issues in the region.
A letter from Kathy Payne to SDRC Mayor Vic Pennisi was included, stating she wanted to reinforce the concerns raised by a local chaplain and a local chaplaincy committee chairperson regarding the lack of access to mental health support services for young people in our region and more generally for all age groups.
She stated she is not aware of a service on the Southern Downs that has the capacity to accept a referral in the short term, and waiting times are on average in excess of 6 weeks if services are accepting new referrals at all.
Kathy also said that she has no capacity to see new clients and struggle to provide information regarding alternate referral pathways
“ A number of times each week I have referrals whether they are self-referred or GP, that I have to decline,” she said.
“Qhealth Mental Health has a very narrow intake and only accept referrals for those who are acutely mentally unwell, but they are overwhelmed as well.”
“I am very aware that Mental Health is funded by both state and federal government, but I believe you have the capacity in your position to advocate on our region’s behalf to increase the government-funded services and Council may have the resources to assist local providers like myself to recruit professional staff to our region.
“Please advocate for our local community around this issue, as the current situation is not sustainable. I welcome your response.”
Councillor Sheryl Windle stated in response to the letter that “we’re all very well aware that mental health services are very limited throughout the whole region, and I think that we can in some way play a small part of many to advocate to get that problem addressed in some way through the federal and state government”.
She stated that “mental health is a big issue in this region and in many forms whether it be minor mental health or major mental health”.
“It is definitely there.
“And it’s very clear that we do not have enough services available for the number of people that require those services.”
Mayor Pennisi stated that he’d been liaising with headspace, the chaplains, lifeline, and other groups; “having these discussions in relation to how we address some of these issues going forward and what can be done”.
He stated that it’s not just about the money, it’s about the person.
Mayor Pennisi stated that Council’s role may end up being facilitating the conversation with all the people that play in that space to see if there’s a common way of facilitating some of those outcomes.
Councillor Jo McNally stated that “we’ve seen an increase in mental health issues in our region, and it’s been going on for a long time”.
“We went through the drought, we got Covid, and the lack of connection people are feeling with their community, their families, and their friends,” she said.
Councillor McNally highlighted how locals in the community may not want to talk to their GP as it is such a personal issue; however, going straight to a practitioner is too expensive for many and wait times for other cities are too long.
She stated that while it is not Council’s financial responsibility, they do have a responsibility to advocate when they can.
Councillor Cynthia McDonald highlighted correspondence between Mayor Pennisi and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s office, which was included in the agenda.
The letter from the Premier’s office includes information on how their Covid-19 relief package includes funding for mental health.
The Premier’s office was contacted for details on how much of this funding will be used in the region, and exactly what for.
A Queensland Health spokesperson responded, stating that the package will include grants to 45 regional communities to “develop initiatives such as providing financial counselling support, economic development activity, improving mental health literacy, community outreach and community events designed to help communities to re-connect and deal with social isolation”.
The Southern Downs Council will reportedly receive a $75,000 grant for three programs.
The first will be a “10 minutes with the Masters” program to reach people on the land and provide them with access to financial counsellors with agents to assist with farm management, health and wellbeing information and service providers.
The second will be mental health first aid training programs designed for older people, youth and the community, including a series of 12-hour sessions delivered by trained council staff
The third program will be a self-defence and domestic and family violence program to educate young people on how to stay safe and deal with potential issues in a post-Covid-19 context.
A staff member stated because we are on the border, while it’s good to see state government provide funding, “more often than not” it doesn’t apply to the whole community out here.
It was confirmed that Mayor Pennisi has written to the cross-border commission for this reason.
Councillor Ross Bartley stated that in relation to the border communities, he and the Mayor had received a lot of correspondence on this.
“We feel rather powerless as a local government to have any influence on it, but obviously one business owner has a response to the letter,” he said.
“It’s hard to get through to the premier’s office and get a response, and I think that response has been forwarded onto many of the people from Killarney who are venting at the moment and just trying to conduct normal business let alone affecting their personal lives.
“The Killarney co-operative, whose large client base is in northern New South Wales; it has been dramatically affected.
“Just property owners who own property on both sides of the border, every day is absolutely chaos moving between their properties.
“I think there seems to be a lack of feeling from the state as to their plight at the moment and yes in the letter they offer some assistance in certain ways but it’s not solving the problem now.
“And now is the problem.”