Media Release: Drought impacts mental health for children

Demand for mental health Telecare services has grown by 86 per cent at Royal Far West over the past financial year, highlighting the impact of the drought on children living in rural and remote areas, according to CEO, Lindsay Cane AM.

Figures released today by Royal Far West show that during the 2018-19 financial year, demand for RFW’s mental health telecare service grew substantially, with more than 660 children and their families supported across the year. “One of the insidious and often unacknowledged aspects of this devastating drought is the long-lasting potential impact on the children,” Ms Cane said. “The severe economic and financial challenges faced by many farming communities and rural towns are playing out in the mental health of the local children. The effects of the drought can often be quite traumatic for children and young people and the impact of this trauma can deeply affect these young lives.”

Ms Cane said the complexity of health and developmental needs of rural and remote families who have presented to Royal Far West for treatment and support over the last 24 months has risen exponentially.

Figures show the demand for RFW’s Paediatric Developmental Program (PDP), a specialist program for children living in rural and remote areas needing help with developmental, learning and behavioural health needs, has increased 31 per cent over the past 3 years, from 632 children in FY2015/16 to 830 children in FY2018/19. The proportion of children seeing a psychiatrist through the PDP in the same timeframe has increased from 25 per cent to 37 per cent.

“This complexity highlights the need for long-term strategies, with greater coordination needed across multiple agencies, so we can ensure we are helping these children early enough,” Ms Cane said.

“Early intervention means more young people in rural and remote Australia will have the best possible start in life and grow into productive adults.”

Ms Cane said there is also an urgent need for more services in schools and different health settings in rural and remote Australia, so young people can feel comfortable in seeking help for mental health issues.

She said another important issue to address is the perception by many country people that people in metropolitan areas don’t understand or care about the drought nor what it means to people living in the country, having to endure these harsh and relentless conditions. “We work closely with the Northern Beaches community to help them understand how to appreciate and support the rural people that come to Royal Far West, mostly for treatment and often for respite, but we’re happy to work with the State and the Nation to help all metro Australians know how to be great friends and practical supporters to rural people living through this drought. We have to do more. We all need a strong rural Australia. And we need this drought to end.”

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