Medical centre welcomes new mental health program

Cobar Primary Health Care Centre (CPHCC) has welcomed a mental health “checkup” service that aims to screen patients for anxiety and depression.

Western NSW Primary Health Network (WNSW PHN) has partnered with Black Dog Institute to roll out the new service.

The Black Dog StepCare in General Practice program is the first of its type in Australia, and involves 14 general practice sites across Western NSW from Broken Hill to Molong, to help people get the right care in the right place and at the right time.

The Black Dog Institute promotes a stepped care approach to delivering accessible, effective and efficient services, with general practitioners ideally placed to facilitate better mental health outcomes for patients in Western NSW.

Patients are given an iPad when they arrive at the practice as part of a regular welcome procedure, and are invited to complete a questionnaire on anxiety and depressive symptoms.

These results are sent to the GP, who can then raise them in the consultation and offer patients appropriate management options based on the severity of their symptoms.

CPHCC Practice Manager Bernie Martin said the local GPs have found it to be a helpful tool that can give them an opening into a discussion about how patients are travelling and offer appropriate care or treatment as needed.

“The support and resources with Black Dog Institute are great for the mild cases of anxiety and depression to be managed and supported in the comfort of their own home at their own pace,” Mrs Martin said.

One in six Australians will experience depression and one in four will experience anxiety in their lifetime, lowering quality of life, increasing risk of suicide and worsening outcomes of other physical and mental health problems.

Member for Parkes Mark Coulton said the Federal Government’s support in this undertaking was vital.

“Rural people are stoic. They often do the hard yards in face of the vagaries of the weather, remoteness and the rural economy,” Mr Coulton said.

“When the going is tough it’s good to know they can access the same care as city folk.”

WNSW PHN chief executive officer Andrew Harvey said patients that screen in the mild, moderate or severe range for symptoms of anxiety or depression are provided with the appropriate treatment recommendation along with repeat surveys and fortnightly monitoring by Black Dog Institute.

“The aim is to intervene early, prevent deterioration, improve mental health outcomes and develop a system of individualised stepped mental health care that can be ultimately implemented across the whole WNSW PHN region,” Mr Harvey said.

Director and Chief Scientist of the Black Dog Institute Professor Helen Christensen said the program is the first of its type in Australia, and perhaps even worldwide.

“We also know nearly half (45 per cent) of Australians will experience a mental illness at some stage of their life and that rates are higher among rural areas.

“Not only is the assessment quick to do, it helps patients who have been uncomfortable to speak up, or who were unaware they had mental health symptoms, to access the treatment and support to help them lead more fulfilling lives,” she said.

She said one of the main successes of the program is that it is directed by the needs of the patient, which gives them ownership but in a supported way.