YOUNG rural and regional Victorians are particularly vulnerable to deficiencies in the mental health system, a former Bendigo Young Citizen of the Year and trainee psychiatrist has warned.
Vice-president of the Rural Doctors Association of Victoria Skye Kinder said the issue should be a priority for government, as regional patients deserved equal access to good healthcare.
Dr Kinder said young people's mental health had always been an urgent issue, but was only more so after the COVID-19 crisis.
It comes ahead of the final recommendations from the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System, due this month.
Dr Kinder said mental health funding for rural and regional areas should be better overall, but that young people were particularly disadvantaged by current deficiencies.
She named eating disorders as an area of particular concern, saying presentations had soared across the state, but specialist services were often metro-based.
Dr Kinder said patients from remote corners of the Loddon Mallee might be forced to present to Bendigo, then be transferred to Melbourne. She said this could require hours of travelling and force them to tell their story repeatedly, which could be very distressing.
Dr Kinder said children and young people in crisis would benefit if they could get inpatient treatment near their home, rather than having to travel to Melbourne at a vulnerable time.
She said family and social supports were an important part of recovery from mental illness, but travel for treatment took adolescents away from these.
Dr Kinder said shortages of mental health staff such as psychiatrists was an issue across the state, but exacerbated in the regions.
She said these were increasingly affecting the Greater Bendigo region.
Dr Kinder said she hoped the Royal Commission's final recommendations would specifically address the deficits in the rural and regional mental health workforce.
She called on the Victorian government to take any royal commission recommendations very seriously, saying they should be implemented urgently.
"Mental health in rural and regional areas can be a bit 'Out of sight and out of mind'," Dr Kinder said.
"The mental health of our young people in the regions should be a priority for government. Our patients deserve equal access to good healthcare."
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