Improving the mental health of rural youth

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The Benevolent Society
Kylie Manners,
Team Leader, Rural Youth Mental Health Service

Mental health challenges in rural areas of Australia are particularly concerning, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics reporting that almost 40 per cent of young people experienced mental health concerns over a 12-month period.

Young people living outside Australian capital cities are more at risk of mental illness and the risk of suicide increases with remoteness. These risks are exacerbated by mental health workforce shortages and the limited availability of, and difficulty accessing, appropriate support services. There is evidence that the lower the mental health treatment capacity in an area, the greater the risk of suicide in young people.

To help tackle this significant issue, the Rural Youth Mental Health (RYMH) program was established in October 2018.

Funded by the Western New South Wales (NSW) Primary Health Network and delivered by The Benevolent Society, RYMH is a mobile community-outreach program that supports young people (aged 12–25 years) in rural areas of Western NSW (Cobar, Condobolin, Coonabarabran, Coonamble, Cowra, Forbes, Gilgandra, Mudgee, Nyngan, Narromine, Parkes and Walgett) to overcome mental health challenges and isolation.

After working in the disability sector for 20 years, the opportunity to establish RYMH and see positive impacts on the lives of young people across Western NSW has been incredibly challenging and rewarding.

Supporting a team, watching them grow professionally in competence and confidence, has been another highlight of the role.

RYMH supports young people to overcome barriers, learn new skills, connect with services and build positive coping strategies. It helps them to recognise and manage mental health concerns and improves their social and emotional wellbeing.

The service is free of charge and provides individualised, evidence-informed practices to support improved mental health, information about wellbeing and health, connections to social and community networks, referrals and case management, and groups tailored to promote social and emotional wellbeing in the local community.

Since its inception, RYMH has received referrals for 855 young people and provided 11,855 incidents of support, of which 7,030 were delivered in person and 3,693 by phone.

The feedback our small team of 10 has received from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.

The young people we support say that RYMH helps them gain confidence and make better choices; it helps them overcome issues preventing them from studying; it reduces their anxiety by giving them coping strategies; and it leaves them better equipped to manage their own mental health.

There are reported improvements in psychological symptoms, family relationships, communication, social connectedness, school attendance, and achievement of life goals such as attaining employment or a driver’s licence.

Many mental health support services in Western NSW are based in regional centres; RYMH is embedded in smaller communities, travelling to rural and remote areas on a regular basis to create presence, visibility and trust.

RYMH utilises a co-location model with schools, making it convenient for young people and removing barriers that would otherwise prevent them from accessing supports.

For young people not already in contact with a support service, or who find it difficult to access or engage with a service, RYMH is there to help them make a positive change. Young people can ask for support from the program themselves, or be referred by a community organisation, school, friend or family member.

There is no quick fix when it comes to mental health, but our RYMH team is certainly making a positive impact in the lives of these young people.

Find out more about The Benevolent Society’s RYMH program online or call 1800 236 762.

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