Farmers struggling with drought will no longer have to trek to town for counselling appointments under new measures to make seeking mental health support easier.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the change on Sunday, along with $11.4 million in funding for other initiatives supporting the mental wellbeing of farming families and their communities.
Instead of three out of 10 Medicare-supported psychological consultations needing to be in person, rural people can now access all of them over the phone or through Skype under the changes.
Mr Turnbull said the government recognises the dry conditions have been taking a mental toll on farming communities.
“These are bleak times and a lot of people find it very hard to cope,” he told reporters at a farm at Trangie in central NSW on Sunday.
He said changing the way people can access support is important as the need to travel to in-person appointments has meant some people have been dropping out of counselling early.
“A lot of people don’t want to go into town, they don’t have the time to go into town, they’re shy about doing so,” the prime minister said.
“This is very important to improve that mental health support.”
The wellbeing funding is part of a broader $190 million drought relief package.
Eligible drought-affected communities will be able to apply for grants up to $1 million to run mental health programs tailored to their needs.
It is expected that communities will receive between $200,000 and $300,000 each.
Primary Health Networks will also get some of the money to help them cope with increasing demand for their mental health services.
Youth mental health organisation ReachOUT will be funded to visit drought-affected communities to make young people more aware of their e-counselling services.
The initiatives have been embraced by the National Farmers’ Federation.
“It’s vital that we help farmers and families that are dealing with the stress and pressures drought brings,” NFF president Fiona Simson said in a statement.
The federation has urged farmers to check their eligibility for various supports, a message echoed by government.
“We need farmers, if they are struggling, to put their hand up and reach out and get that assistance,” Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said.
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