Since the new texting counselling service had been launched for rural people in need psychologist, Dervla Loughnane, stated it has been inundated with text support requests from Aussie farmers around Australia.
“We were swamped!”
Aussie Helpers launched the mental health texting service in January 2018 to save farmers lives who are living in rural areas and seeking fast mental health support is not possible. It is expected to be a huge lifesaver for rural Australia.
Dervla Loughnane, who created the program, said the Virtual Psychologist business is already connecting rural people with mental health professionals in a way that offers anonymity, convenience and an instant response.
“It was so overwhelming that in the first 24 hours we had to double our staff on the lines,” DERVLA LOUGHNANE
“We just weren’t expecting the demand. Luckily I’ve been a psychologist for 17 years and I knew a lot of people who could jump on the platform.
“Men were saying they don’t usually reach out for help but they knew they needed it, and asking what we could do.”
The service allows farming families in rural and remote areas of Australia to interact with a qualified mental health clinician directly, via text from their mobile phone.
As Australia’s largest rural charity, Aussie Helpers has partnered with Dervla’s startup business for the last 17 months, thanks to funding from Lions International, to trial and fine tune the innovative counselling service given the tag line ‘Let your fingers do the talking’.
In that time, over 1000 hours of texting have taken place between people of all ages and professions throughout rural Australia and professionally trained mental health clinicians, each with a minimum of five years service.
Founder of Aussie Helpers, Brian Egan, said the volunteers knew they wouldn’t be able to solve any major problems but wanted to leave a message of how special rural families and their work were.
Brian says it as a very personal interaction and the knowledge gleaned from visits plus the increasingly desperate requests for assistance from rural areas as drought and crises in the dairy industry deepened, bringing on depression, domestic violence, loneliness, failure, burnout and grief, was the motivation for the new service.
“Somebody had to start doing something different.” BRIAN EGAN
Testimonials from users in the trial said texting was less confronting than speaking with someone face to face, that it could be done from the privacy of the shed without family knowing, and that it overcame embarrassment, among other virtues.
“It’s for people that are really stuck and reaching out,” Dervla said. “They might not be able to afford fuel, or they don’t want to be seen going in to the local centre.”
Dervla said anyone with the ability to have a satellite phone connection could access the psychological program on a dedicated rural user number.
Statistics show 28 per cent of participants wouldn’t have sought out a doctor or other mental health service for help if the text-based counselling hadn’t been available.
Brian Egan said Aussie Helpers would back it “as much as it takes” because of its belief in the Virtual Psychologist’s ability to give isolated people an access point they’ve not had until now.
WE NEED GOV FUNDING NOW!
Brian and Dervla, who is an Optus Future Makers grant recipient, have been attempting to secure a meeting with federal health minister, Greg Hunt, both to obtain ongoing funding and to explain that there was no need to “reinvent the wheel” as far as funding a crisis texting service went.
He said it was too important a service to hold back waiting for government buy-in but he would ultimately like a 50:50 funding partnership arrangement.
The Coalition’s mental health care policy includes a $2.5 million provision for Lifeline to design and trial a ‘Crisis Text’ service.
“We want to tell Mr Hunt, don’t spend millions developing anything – we’ve already done it,” Dervla said.
She described a meeting between herself, Aussie Helpers founder, Brian Egan, and federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, in Canberra last week as a positive exchange but said no-one was prepared to commit money to the idea.
“We told him we’d had the technology developed and running for 17 months, and he wanted to know all the nuts and bolts – how many use it a day, all the statistical data.
“We can supply all that but what are we guaranteed to get in return. The only help we’re getting at the moment is from Aussie Helpers.”
Aussie Helpers pays for the service of the clinicians, at cost price.
Are you a rural farmer in need of help?
No app is needed to access the service, and there’s no subscriber fee or joining fee.
People can go to virtualpsychologist.com.au/home/ to get instant help from a dedicated rural team, or just text 0488 807 266.
THE AUSSIE HELPERS TEAM
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