16 February 2021

Mental health training for rural Vic GPs

Clinical COVID-19 General Practice Mental Health RACGP

More regional Victorian GPs will have access to the RACGP’s focussed psychological strategies skills training, as part of a push to boost mental health care availability.

About 100 fully subsidised places are available within the scheme, which is funded by the Rural Workforce Agency Victoria.

The training module is entirely online and will qualify GPs to provide focussed psychological strategies (FPS) and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)-derived counselling to patients.

The funding boost comes after Victoria’s Medicare data from September to October 2020 revealed a 31% increase in Medicare-subsidised mental health services, compared to the same period in 2019.

RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements told The Medical Republic that the training was especially relevant for GPs working within rural communities in the wake of any disaster.

“In the initial phase of a disaster, people act on adrenaline and just get on with it – then there tends to be a bit of a peak [in people seeking support] around that 6 to 12-month mark,” he said.

“But after that, there’s a very long tail of people still needing a bit of that psychological support and intervention, very far down the track.”

With regional Australia facing a scarcity of psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, Dr Clements – who practises rurally – said the training helped him implement short, sharp interventions and treat low-to-moderate grade depression and anxiety.

“I use the skills to augment everyday conversations and consultations, and only in the rarest of cases do I feel that it replaced the need for a psychologist referral,” Dr Clements said.

In terms of context, though, he said rural GPs may be perfectly placed to deliver mental health care.

“[People] are much happier talking to a local that understands them, their community, what they’ve been through and what they felt – and that’s particularly important after natural disasters such as floods or fire,” Dr Clements said.

In a press release, RACGP Victoria Chair Dr Anita Munoz said that, although lockdowns were necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19, the mental health toll on patients was a huge concern.

“Victorians have faced unprecedented twin crises in last summer’s devastating bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic – our state experienced the longest lockdown in Australia last year, and now we find ourselves in lockdown again,” she said.

The training content will cover best practice for antidepressant prescribing and GP support to begin applying CBT and FPS counselling, among other topics.

Intake for the next round of training opens on Monday 8 March and an EOI for the subsidised positions can be submitted via the RACGP website.

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