Growing up in the northern rivers has had many upsides: the beautiful natural landscape, vibrant communities and a warm feeling of acceptance.
However, living in a regional area has had its downsides.
Young people who live in Byron Bay and surrounding towns lack one of the most important health services: mental health assistance.
One in four young people aged between 15-19 are suffering from a serious mental illness, as according to a 2017 report.
We are being encouraged more and more to reach out, but sometimes it can be a struggle to find the right places to seek help.
Being a young adult living in Byron Bay, when I first began to suffer with anxiety, I quickly began to realise the lack of immediate resources we have locally.
Even though I had the support of my friends and family, I was at a loss as to where I could turn to for medical intervention.
We know that 75 per cent of mental health issues develop before the age of 25, so it is imperative to be able to intervene at the early stages to stop the issues from progressing.
Member for Ballina Tamara Smith is deeply concerned about the lack of services across NSW.
‘I am aware that organisations like Beyond Blue cannot cope with the sheer number of young people that contact them for help and have to turn people away!’ said Ms Smith.
‘That shocks me to think that a young person who is in extreme need may not get the help they need even when they reach out for it.’
Where can we go for help?
There are a few ways we can access help here: government initiatives such as Headspace, our GP or a psychologist, and online services and helplines.
Headspace is a service that has attempted to fill the gap that traditional health services have left when it comes to providing mental health support.
Providing tailored and holistic mental health support, Headspace uses a combination of in-person consults and telephone support to focus on early intervention for mental issues in kids.
Unfortunately for those in Byron Bay, the closest headspace facility is in either Lismore or Tweed Heads. Due to our lack of public transport, getting to these centres for a free consult can be challenging.
When it comes to seeing a GP, a young person can be put onto a Mental Health Care Plan. This enables them to have 10 appointments with an allied mental health service, such as a psychologist, and attain Medicare rebates.
The downside is that the payment gap can range from $40 to $70, leaving young people significantly out of pocket.
Online services really are imperative for young people living in regional areas, and I will admit that I was hesitant to utilise them at first; I was craving human connection because I thought that would be the only way to help me.
However, a 2013 study showed that telephone services resulted in lower attrition rates and close to equivalent improvement in depression compared to face-to-face services.
This, however, leads to a bigger issue: if our early-action services are so minimal, how goes our crisis intervention for mental health patients?
When emergency services are called to a mental health emergency, the closest option is to transport the patient to either Tweed Heads or Lismore as both hospitals have acute inpatient units.
Byron Bay hospital is a Sub Acute Mental Health Service and offers short stay residential care recovery and support for those who no longer require acute treatment.
Ms Smith affirmed that due to waiting lists hindering access to acute mental health support, the onus is falling on non-governmental entities.
‘Non-profit organisations and charities should not have to bear the responsibility for providing adequate front line mental health services,’ said Ms Smith.
Where to from here?
On Tuesday 10 December, the Mindgardens Neuroscience Network was launched with $7 million of Commonwealth government funding to underpin the unique mental health service.
Based on a collaboration from UNSW Sydney, Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), the Black Dog Institute and South Eastern Sydney Local Health District Health, Mindgardens rigorously tailors treatment according to the unique needs of the patients.
Ms Smith commended the action of this network for bringing together specialist clinicians who are at the cutting edge of research into mental health.
‘This model is a new way of looking at the whole person and includes positive mental health as a core primary health need,’ she said.
‘I think we need the equivalent of a program like Mindgardens specifically for young people to be trialled and rolled out across the state and that will take extra resources from state and federal governments.’
We are now moving towards a culture that values the importance of mental health to be at the same level as physical health; it is time our local services reflected that need.
‘It is about priorities,’ said Ms Smith.
‘I for one wish to see us prioritise our youth.’