Breaking point • Mental health services under strain on Monaro

TWENTY per cent of the patients Bombala doctor Emma Cunningham sees daily are battling depression or a mental illness. 

“I usually see 25 patients a day, of those five patients have some form of mental illness,” Dr Cunningham told the Bombala Times.

“I think depression and mental health issues are very common in our community and it often goes unrecognised and untreated.

“It is definitely in our community whether people are aware of it or not, or choose to ignore it,” she said. 

In Australia 65 per cent of people with a mental illness do not access treatment and often there are serious problems in detection and access to treatment. 

Dr Cunningham said the challenge for Bombala patients  was access to specialist treatment for their illness. 

“Visits from psychologists who are essentially specialised doctors are far less frequent in our community,” she said. 

“Often we need to send patients to privately funded psychologists in Canberra and these sessions can cost approximately $120 a visit.

“There’s a fairly dire situation in Canberra with most psychologists having  their books closed due to the overwhelming amount of patients.”

Last month Dr Cunningham had a patient who needed to seek treatment with a counsellor based in Cooma but said the wait involved was not helpful to that patient whose illness affected their

day-to-day functioning. 

“The earliest I could make an appointment for that patient was July because their services are so extended there,” she said. 

“It’s far too long for a patient to wait and at this stage in Bombala we have a counsellor or psychologist visit once a month or sometimes a fortnight. 

“I think ideally there needs to be more government funded programs and unfortunately a lot of those were pulled in November last year.” 

According to Lifeline, deaths from suicide in Australia are at 10-year peak and Australians are more likely to die by suicide than skin cancer, yet there is comparatively little known about the processes that lead to suicide and how and when to effectively intervene. 

Dr Cunningham suggests if community members are aware of anyone suffering mental illness or depression to open communication and encourage them to seek treatment. 

“For patients suffering depression there are a multiple of approaches we would need to take and long discussions on how their illness is affecting their lives,” she said. 

“Ideally we would also take a multi-disciplined approach towards treatment depending on how severe symptoms were. 

“I would advise that you also need to open the lines of communication with them as well and within the community, that’s very important.”

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