RACGP encourages rural GPs to take up new mental health training to help children after disasters

RACGP

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is encouraging GPs in rural and remote Australia to undertake new mental health training to help children who’ve experienced disasters.

It comes as GPs across the nation are dealing with increasing mental health presentations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and last summer’s devastating bushfires, and with the next fire season approaching.

There are two e-learning courses from Emerging Minds, National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health available to RACGP members on the website: https://www.racgp.org.au/special-pages/login. The first builds knowledge and skills in child mental health assessment and management in general practice, and the second focuses on supporting children and families after natural disaster or community trauma – including in the immediate aftermath, short and long term.

A recentMonash University study found the COVID-19 pandemic was having a profound impact on children’s mental health, with data from general practices in Victoria and New South Wales showing a spike in anxiety, depression and eating disorders among those aged up to 14 years since the beginning of the pandemic.

RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements encouraged rural GPs to take up the new training.

“This training is very timely for rural GPs as rural communities are facing multiple stressors. There’s a worldwide pandemic, many communities are still recovering from last summer’s devastating bushfires and the next fire season is approaching.

“GPs provide most if not all mental health support in rural and remote communities. Patients often feel more comfortable turning to their GP, with whom they have an ongoing relationship with and trust, and in many places there are no other mental health services nearby.

A rural GP whose helped communities recover after natural disasters including floods in Townsville, Dr Clements said access to appropriate mental health support was especially important for children.

“When it comes to children, it is vital that we can provide timely and appropriate mental health care in times of need, especially in the aftermath of disasters when families and communities are struggling to pick up the pieces.”

RACGP Spokesperson Dr Penny Burns warned that general practice needed support to manage rising numbers of mental health presentations in the wake of COVID-19 and last summer’s bushfires.

“General practice is the first port of call for people with mental health concerns – it is essential that Government invests adequate resources in primary care so we can provide the mental health support communities need now, and into the future.”

The RACGP has called on Federal Government to help general practice successfully manage the long-term health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and summer bushfires. This includes investing in new Medicare subsidies for longer consultations so GPs can spend more time with their patients to discuss what they’re experiencing and help that is available.

Emerging Minds spokesperson, Director, Brad Morgan, said that as longitudinal care providers GPs are in an ideal position to both observe and make a difference in the trajectory of children and families.

“GPs have an essential role in assessing children’s mental health however, their role can also provide prevention-oriented guidance and support to the entire family. Both courses have been developed together with GPs and families from across Australia, they are designed to practically meet a need and walk GPs through the process of identifying, assessing and supporting children with mental health difficulties.”

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