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WRITTEN BY: Dr Qusai Hussain Rural Australians are dying – how regional businesses can help fill the mental health gap

Ten per cent of Australians live in regional and remote areas – that’s 2.6 million people who can’t easily access the mental health services they desperately need.


How can rural businesses help?

I recently asked a friend from Brisbane if she would pack up her family and move to a rural town in Australia if she knew that cancer rates were twice as high than those in the city? She looked aghast and said no, of course she wouldn’t.

I then asked, “what if your son had a chronic condition and you knew that 75% of the specialists he would need were based in major cities, would you move to a rural town then?” Her answer, as expected, was another emphatic no.

And yet, this devastating reality is what we ask of regional and rural Australians suffering from mental health issues.

Between 2010 and 2017, the rate of suicide in remote areas was almost double that of major cities, and in 2015 VicHealth reported that 88% of psychiatrists, 75% of mental health nurses and 75% of registered psychologists were employed in major cities, leaving the remaining workforce to serve all other rural and regional areas. Is this truly the best we can do?

Specialised Access

Last week the results of a review of the Australian Government’s Better Access mental health scheme were released, and the results showed that the scheme is inequitable in its current format, especially for those in rural and regional areas. In fact, a2015 studyfound the delivery of Better Access services was typically greater in more advantaged urban areas.

In order to combat this inequity, the Australian Psychological Society (ASP) is recommending to the government that a new certification for regional and rural psychologists be created as a recognition of the unique skills required to work in remote areas.

By creating a regional psychology speciality there is hope that access and delivery of rural mental health services will receive more focus and funding from the government in years to come. But, until such provisions are up and running, where can people turn for help today?

Offering Options

With limited access to qualified and specialised psychologists within a reasonable distance from their home or workplace, many rural Australians are struggling on a day-to-day basis. This impacts their productivity, increases their likelihood of absenteeism from work and creates problems in their personal lives. In small and remote communities, one person’s struggle soon affects everyone.

Often people who live in small rural communities are reluctant to seek treatment because of a perceived lack of anonymity and confidentiality - walking into a psychologist’s office in a large city is nerve-wracking enough, but knowing that your entire community is witnessing you take that step can be downright terrifying.Plus, in urban centres you have the option of finding a mental health professional that is right for you - there are numerous choices available - but in regional areas you likely have only one option, and if that person isn’t a good fit there may be no realistic alternative available.

Until the government manages to provide modern and forward-thinking regional mental health services, rural businesses can help fill the chasm the government is unable to close.

Businesses that offer digital and online mental health services to employees allow them to access the immediate help they need, on their terms, and in complete anonymity. The range of mental health professionals available on platforms such as Cyber Clinic means people can find someone who understands their unique circumstances as someone living in a regional or remote community, and who has an approach that works for them.The positive effects of providing online mental health support will not only be felt in the workplace, where an employee’s work satisfaction and morale will increase and hence business productivity, but in the wider community.

Regional and rural Australians are known for being tight-knit and supporting those in their communities during tough times – offering access to online mental health services may be the most important support there is.

Positive change starts here!

Take your first step to a healthier you, download the Cyber Clinic app and be connected with flexible online counsellors, psychologists and therapists that have been picked for you. Take charge of your mental health and wellbeing today.

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workplace stress | factors and how to overcome it
Work-related stress is a growing problem around the world that affects not only the health and well-being of employees but also the productivity of businesses.  Work-related stress arises where work demands of various types and combinations exceed the person’s capacity and capability to cope. According to Better Health, Work-related stress is the second common illness/injury in Australia, following musculoskeletal disorders  Work-related stress factors ORGANISATIONAL CULTURE Organizational culture is the selection of values, expectations, and practices which guides and informs the actions of all team members. This ultimately shapes employee perceptions, behaviours and understanding in the workplace  BAD MANAGEMENT PRACTICES Management practice is an important factor in creating a work culture and environment. Bad management practices can develop conflict in the workplace including, workplace bullying, power abuse (e.g., using fear to motivate people), ignoring good performance from team members and conducting ineffective meetings.  JOB CONTENT & DEMANDS Job contents and demands such as work overload or pressure can be a huge impact on your mental wellbeing. Being overly pressured and overloaded with work can cause high stress for employees. Stress can lower a person’s productivity, focus and motivation to complete their job content and demands.  PHYSICAL WORK ENVIRONMENT Numerous studies have demonstrated that characteristics of the physical office environment can have a significant effect on the behaviour, perceptions and productivity of employees. This is especially for office employees who often spend a lot of their time inside their environment. The physical environments influence their well-being and directly influence their work performance and productivity. The atmosphere of the building should have the right room temperature, enough air quality, good lighting and low noise conditions in the office for better work concentration and productivity.  RELATIONSHIPS AT WORK Building networks, connections and positive relationships at work are important. Having a workplace environment that acts as a team rather than individually makes employees feel they are supported by their employers and employees. This builds their confidence, therefore their productivity. However, if employees feel a lack of support in their workplace there can be disengagement in the workplace. Hence, the work environment will naturally be disconnected and less productive. CHANGES Sudden change in management and work environment can be stressful especially for long term existing employees who have been with the company. Typical changes that negatively impact a portion of the employees are salary cuts, loss of benefits, downgrading in job position, job loss or relocation to another city, state or country. This can create job insecurity for employees and can result in negative impacts on their mental health (p)  ROLE CONFLICT According to Safework, poorly defined or conflicted roles in a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) can be a stressor for workers. Poor role definition arises from a lack of clarity in workers’ objectives, key accountabilities, their co-workers’ expectations of them and the overall scope or responsibilities of their job. Role conflict occurs when a worker is required to perform a role that goes against their values or when their job demands are incompatible. (p)  TRAUMA This can include:  Events such as death, grief, suicide, accident or injury  Organizational such as bullying, threats, harassment, betrayal, maliciousness, extreme isolation, chronic pressure, unresolved conflict, toxic work environment, uncertainty, fear for the future, downsizing or fear of unemployment  Physical stressors such as noise, chaotic environment, sense of no control over space, fear for physical safety, harsh or flashing lights, extremes of heat or cold, working amid construction, and other adverse physical conditions  External threats such as evacuation, lockdown, fire or robbery  These factors can affect the company's budget, employee turnover and overall profits. Moreover, A decrease in productivity and morale are signs employees may be struggling with the leadership being given. If employees have an effective leader and a good workplace structure or environment, there will also be better performance in hand. Hence, a greater profit for the organization.  Ways to overcome workplace stress   TRACK YOU STRESSORS Keep a journal to identify which circumstances create the most stress and how you respond or react to them. Jot down your thoughts, feelings, and details about the environment, including the people involved.  DEVELOP HEALTHY RESPONSES Any form of physical activity is beneficial. Also, make time for hobbies and activities. Getting enough good-quality sleep is also important for effective stress management  ESTABLISH BOUNDARIES & RECHARGE Establish some work-life boundaries for yourself. In today’s world, many people are addicted to their mobile or computer devices, checking emails and social media content. According to a study from NCBI, social media use can increase levels of anxiety and depression. Hence, This may mean a rule not to go on social media unless checking on your phone for very important matters.  Although people have different preferences when it comes to how much they blend their work and home life, creating some clear boundaries between these realms can reduce the potential for work-life conflict and the stress that goes with it  TALK TO YOUR SUPERVISOR Begin an open conversation with your supervisor. The intent is not to show a list of complaints but to come up with an effective plan for managing the stressors you have identified, to perform best at your job GET SUPPORT Your employer may also have stress management resources available through an employee assistance program, including online information, and referral to mental health professionals. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by work stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviour. If you are experiencing workplace stress and want to speak to someone now, our Cyber Clinic app can connect you with a psychologist through your phone and skip the wait time. Our services include medicare rebates. 
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