Content Warning
. This article contains challenging material about mental health and suicide which may be confronting to some readers. If you need support, contact Lifeline (24-hour crisis line) on 131 114.

West of Bundaberg lies a region and community with such high suicide rates it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Suicide Capital’ of Queensland.
With a community unable to access government-funded services, the local North Burnett Community Service has stepped up to fill the gap.

Yasmin Barber, the centre coordinator, spoke to NCQ about the lack of suitable mental health services in the area, with many stating there is no demand, highlighting an issue with the way funding is distributed.

“We really are in a service vacuum. There are just no services here. I’ve found that many larger service providers in areas like Bundaberg will list on their websites that they service our area, but once you contact them looking for a referral pathway to North Burnett we often hear that they don’t have the staff to come to us. They frequently say that there’s no demand in our region. This happened just recently with a DV service, despite us having 16 referrals we wanted to put through just from our centre. Sadly, these organisations are being funded, actually receiving thousands of dollars to provide services in our area, but they’re not doing it.”

To combat the lack of appropriate services in the region, Yasmin has been helping the North Burnett Community Service run their own Community mental health programme which is already seeing great results.

“What we found in less than 6 months of doing our program is that we already have a wait list, we have referrals from child safety, youth justice, the local domestic violence service and the local mental health service that is ironically funded to do the things that we are doing.”

“We provide one on one counselling for people free of charge, and we also do group therapy where people usually come for 6 sessions or weeks. We don’t care who they are where they come from, we just accept them. That is one of the benefits of not having a government funded programme you can just do what you like.”

“It’s been so effective; we would have easily doubled the number of mental health plans that the local GP has done in the last three months. This is what happens when people have someone they feel comfortable with, they are more likely to access complementary services. Neighbourhood Centres are great for information referral and in this instance, almost triage, linking of people to existing services that are being under-utilised.”

Unfortunately, the response to this program from government and large mental health organisations has been lacking. While Yasmin appreciates the great work of North Burnett Community Service, she highlights how resourcefulness can sometimes come at a cost.

“We are always creatively finding solutions, often out of thin air, but one of the risks of creating something out of nothing is often the government sees this and thinks “why should we pay you if you’re already doing it for free?” In reality, what we’re doing is only the tip of the iceberg, with more funding we could do so much more.”

While online services have dramatically increased in the mental health sector, many people in the North Burnett region do not have access to reliable internet, phones or computers. This lack of technological infrastructure alongside minimal transport options and social stigma surrounding access to mental health services all present barriers to receiving support.  There is great need for a localised, person-centred response to mental health in this region, and this is where North Burnett Community Service has stepped in with creative solutions.

“In many instances we get referrals from hairdressers and other businesses. So, something else we do is deliberately engage with all of those service providers. We had a hairdresser call us and say hey I’m actually really worried about this person; they came in today. We literally got that person into our program, who did end up attempting suicide and since they have been in our program they have gone on to receive really high-level mental health support in Bundaberg. But that’s a person who probably wouldn’t have engaged with any services at all if it hadn’t been for that kind of really low-level community-based referral.”

“We also talk to schools and police to refer to us about people that need help so we can figure out what the issues are and who we can refer them on to.”

Alongside these mental health programs and services, the North Burnett Community Service also offers patient transport services and community events which are designed to increase social connections and decrease loneliness, thereby leading to improved mental health outcomes. Ultimately, recognition and additional funding would allow Yasmin and her team to expand their efforts to nearby regions and improve the lives of so many more people. Without additional help, the North Burnett Community Service will continue to advocate and fight for more funding, while helping as many people as they can.

Written by: Taylor Bast
Published: 29 April, 2022