Grampians Medicare Local has just registered 10,000 general practitioner referrals to its Mental Health Script program.
The program provides counselling support to reach rural residents spread over a vast area from Beaufort through to the South Australian border, north to Hopetoun and across to Maryborough.
Counselling through the program is provided in 14 different towns by 21 sub-contracted private psychologists, mental health social workers and counsellors. This is supplemented by Grampians Medicare Local staff - three psychologists and a social worker who are able to be deployed according to demand and areas of unmet need.
Barry Sherwell mental health team leader from Grampians Medicare Local said the program receives referrals from 99 general practitioners from across the region.
"Since the Mental Health Script program commenced in 2001, the program has grown steadily. In the last twelve months more than 1,300 people from the Wimmera and Pyrenees area have been referred to the innovative and responsive program by local doctors. This is the largest yearly total ever received," he said.
According to Warracknabeal's Dr Franklin Butuyuyu, life in the Wimmera presents specific challenges to the local population.
"One such challenge is mental health which bares its teeth in the lives of up to one in four of us. Living in small communities, its impact resonates not only to immediate families but to the communities as a whole," he said.
Having worked in the National Health Service in the UK where psychiatry and psychological services are well entrenched and coordinated in the community, Dr Franklin said it was an unpalatable experience moving to the Wimmera, only to find scattered mental health support in a 'first world' country. The presence of Grampians Medicare Local has helped to close this gap.
Dr Franklin said the presence of a coordinated service to deliver psychological therapy to the community is indispensable.
"Grampians Medicare Local has strived with excellence to meet most of the demand for psychotherapy services in the Wimmera alongside the psychiatric, hospital and general practice services in the Wimmera.
"The loss of this valuable service would be devastating to the Wimmera community which is already fighting many challenges from the devastating effects of fires, droughts, geographic isolation in addition to other challenges of life common to the general population."
A key message from Mr Sherwell is that mental health problems are no different to other health problems.
"Mental health problems are very treatable, and there are services available across our region to provide support whenever it is needed," he said.
"Depression and anxiety are no respecters of persons; young or old, rich or poor are equally likely to have a problem with their mental health at one time or another. The first step for people who are experiencing depression or anxiety is to see their local doctor. Once a person's referral is received at Grampians Medicare Local it is allocated to the most appropriate counsellor in the town closest to where the person lives."