A program to support people's mental health in rural and remote areas being trialled south of Ararat is garnering significant support from the community.
The Rural Outreach Program generally runs in four council areas: West Wimmera, Yarriambiack, Hindmarsh, and Horsham Rural City.
However, Mellow in the Yellow recently funded a trial for the Tatyoon, Lake Bolac, Buangor, Skipton region.
Rural Outreach worker Mal Coutts said the program allows people who are struggling mentally or know someone struggling to have a qualified worker meet to talk things through.
"A typical breakdown of how the program functions is that someone in the community is struggling a bit and we go and have a talk to them," he said.
"At the end of the talk if there's somewhere they think they need more help we try and get the pathway for them to get help and then check in on them while they're on that journey."
The talk with the worker is generally conducted at the house of the person who is struggling.
Wimmera Primary Care executive officer Geoff Witmitz said the non-clinical nature of this response is crucial.
"A lot of people get to a stage where the situational stress is so high and they don't know where to turn," he said.
"It just gives them the option that they can informally make a simple phone call if they are looking for guidance or they are worried about a friend.
"We don't have a formal process, it's about someone's troubled friend, or they're troubled themselves, and they just want someone to talk to because they struggle to understand the system and navigate it.
"It's just that whole thing of looking after a mate."
The program has established partnerships with various agencies to refer people to the appropriate support, particularly in emergencies.
The need for rural support
The Centre For Rural And Remote Mental Health released a paper in 2016 titled 'Rural Suicide and Prevention'.
It revealed the rate of suicides in rural and remote Australia was 50 per cent higher than in capital cities.
Mr Witmitz said the program helped at-risk individuals get the help that is often absent in these areas.
"It's really based on the need in our rural communities because of a lack of services, and the complications around finding the appropriate services to go into," he said.
"A really big part of it is empowering the community to do something about it if someone needs support."
Wimmera Primary Care Partnership aims to achieve this through a series of mental health first aid sessions in the Tatyoon, Lake Bolac, Buangor, Skipton region.
Mr Witmitz said in addition to having a presence at these programs, small events like fire shed meetings and pie nights at football clubs had also helped make the community aware of the Rural Outreach Program.
Mr Witimitz said he had been heartened by people's eagerness to improve mental health in the region.
"The community response has been huge," he said.
"We had our first session in Buangor, and that experience showed there was a thirst for more information.
"A number of referrals were enacted on the first day of the training session."
Mr Witimitz said he was grateful for Mellow in the Yellow enabling the program to run in the region.
"Working with Mellow in the Yellow has been fantastic," he said.
"They're very proactive, they know their stuff, and it's really a pleasure to work with them."
There is evidence supporting mellow in the Yellow's decision to fund the program.
In November 2018, Swinburne University was commissioned to conduct an external evaluation of the Rural Outreach Program. The university then released the Rural Outreach Program Evaluation Interim report in July 2020.
The evaluation noted a positive response from those who used the program, with 80 per cent of respondents stating they would do so again and 76 per cent saying they would recommend the program to others.
Furthermore, between 70-80 per cent of respondents said they strongly agreed they were satisfied with the program, that they were satisfied with the Outreach worker, that the service was timely, and easy to access.
Mr Coutt said he had little doubt about the program's effectiveness.
"It has saved lives," he said.
"I can vouch for that."
People can access the program to get help for themselves or someone they know by phoning 1300 688 732.
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