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18 July 2023

How attending the RANZCP Congress will be of benefit for working rurally

How attending the RANZCP Congress will be of benefit for working rurally

Jo Kaczmarek is a final-year JCU medical student who attended the RANZCP 2023 Congress during her Rural Internship rotation. She recently shared her experience from the congress and why the 2024 event will be a must-attend for rural GPs interested in mental health.

If you’re a rural doctor with Advanced Skills Training (AST) in mental health, it’s a no-brainer! You should go to the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) Congress to keep current, meet like-minded colleagues from across Australia and NZ, and network with Psychiatrists (who are a very social bunch by the way!). Next year’s Congress will be on Ngunnawal land (Canberra) from 19-24 May 2024 and it coincides with the 60th anniversary of the very first Congress, so it’s shaping up to be huge!

 This blog is for the rest of you rural doctors out there – let me try to convince you why the Congress is beneficial for you to attend!

Rural mental health

Globally 25-20% of the population has a mental illness, but more than 2/3 of people with a mental illness receive no treatment. Undertreatment occurs everywhere, in rich and poor countries, cities and towns – it’s the norm rather than the exception.

In Australia mental ill health occurs in rural areas at the same rates as city centres, and yet there is a disparity in spending, and some mental health services just aren’t available outside of our big cities. So the gap in services falls to Rural GPs and doctors to fill.

In a stepped care model GPs lead front-line mental health services and are the foundation of mental health services. GPs manage 85% of the mental health workload and play an important role in keeping people out of the hospital and acute care. Currently, in Australia, around 3.5% of ED presentations are mental-health related and the majority (78%) are triaged as urgent or semi-urgent (i.e. to be seen within 30-60 minutes). So, it is imperative that Rural GPs and Rural Doctors have a good relationship with Psychiatrists and vice versa because without GPs filtering out patients and keeping them out of acute settings, the burden on Psychiatrists and the cost of mental health would increase dramatically.

What was shared at the 2023 RANZCP Congress

The 2023 RANZCP Congress was massive with more than 2200 delegates in attendance (1800 in-person, 450 on-line), 16 workshops, heaps of social activities (including a reception, gala, networking events, wellness activities) and more than 80 sessions covering topics including ADHD, intellectual disability, psychedelic-assisted therapy, children’s mental health, Indigenous mental health, psychiatric workforce diversity, self-care, doctor’s health and welfare, and cultural safety within care.

Speakers from around the world presented research on the cutting edge, explored new and exciting innovations and shared novel service delivery models and progressive ways of working. For example, did you know that in WA there is a “bat phone” that GPs from anywhere in the state can call to speak directly to a Psychiatrist who is ready and equipped at the other end of the line to provide instant advice and help with referral processes when needed?!

How Rural Doctors can help

GPs and Rural Doctors get to see people across their lifespan – with opportunities to apply interventions to improve mental health and wellbeing at key points (from the perinatal and infancy periods, into childhood and adolescence, and later adulthood).  GPs and Rural Doctors often see and treat the whole family putting them in a unique position and opportunity to involve the whole family in the treatment of a person with mental ill health.

A major problem is underdiagnosed mental health conditions - GPs and Rural Doctors have a role in identifying them and referring people on, and since early intervention leads to better outcomes, the sooner this happens, the better. Screening for mental health disorders and using a trauma-informed approach is so important, however, medical training doesn’t quite do enough, so Rural GPs and doctors have to take the responsibility for learning on ourselves!

On the other hand GPs and Rural Doctors are well versed in the importance of lifestyle interventions and the role of a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle habits is as important to mental health as it is for physical health. We’re only beginning to appreciate just how important exercise is for the mind and mood, and the role of GPs and Rural Doctors in keeping lifestyle habits in check cannot be understated.

For those Rural GPs and Doctors who are keen to do more in the mental health space, RANZCP is currently developing a Diploma of Psychiatry to help fill the gap in service provision. Up-skilling doctors PGY5 and above in psychiatry present an exciting opportunity to change the way mental health services are delivered in rural and remote Australia. Rural Doctors have a real opportunity to provide care that fills unmet needs in our most vulnerable communities!

Final thoughts

Rural Doctors and GPs are often out on their own, living and working in towns where services are limited. They are uniquely placed to promote mental wellness and provide care to some of our most vulnerable people in communities where significant service gaps persist. Rather than seeing mental health presentations as something they’re not equipped to deal with (whether that be in terms of training or beds or staff), Rural GPs and Doctors need to make sure that their skill set meets the needs of the rural people and communities they serve. It is imperative that patients get the right care at the right time! RANZCP Congress offers Rural GPs and Doctors an enjoyable way to get current with mental health happenings and to build or strengthen networks with Psychiatrists in their patch.

 Find out more about the 2024 RANZP Congress

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