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Outback mobile mental health service vital for graziers fights for funding

By Renee Cluff, Thursday August 24, 2017 - 08:18 EST
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Crispian Jones travels thousands of kilometres on rough roads to provide counselling to graziers. - ABC

A crowdfunding campaign has begun to save a one-of-a-kind mobile mental health service operating in remote far-north Queensland.

For the past three years, Cairns-based psychologist Crispian Jones has been travelling to cattle stations in an area larger than the size of Tasmania.

He has driven 115,000 kilometres across the Etheridge and Croydon Shires, during which he has shredded three tyres, punctured 13 others, and had plenty of close encounters with local wildlife.

He has also saved lives, including that of one of his patients, John.

"His marriage was in trouble, his wife had left him, and it was just really dire straits. He was bordering on suicide," Mr Jones said.

"But he's responded very well; the marriage is going well."

Graziers are doing it tough

The communities Mr Jones services have suffered four years of drought, and many cattle stations are in serious debt.

The also hit hard.

Mr Jones said these stresses, combined with extreme isolation, had led to issues such as marriage breakdown, depression, and substance abuse.

"Banks will come in and sell them up and that brings all sorts of guilt and shame and other elements into that," he said.

"The resilience that they are very famous for works against them, because it keeps them out of the mental health arena and people suffer.

"If you have an argument with your spouse and it becomes pretty horrible, what do you do, go and talk to a cow?"



While he is not working from a traditional psychologist's office, Mr Jones said conversing with his clients as they went about their daily business had proven beneficial, allowing him to slowly build up their trust.

"It's the back of trucks, meatworks, kitchen tables and it makes it much easier," he said.

"I'm in their space and when I get to open the gates as I do sometimes when I go on a lick run with a grazier, that gives them a bit of breathing space.

"I go and open the gate, come back and we pick up the conversation."

A vital community service

Terry-Ann Cranwell, from Ellendale Station near Einasleigh, has seen first-hand the difference the service had made in her community.



"We got the people who were coming in and bringing in their drugs and the alcohol, and I know that Cris has dealt with people and got them on the straight and narrow," she said.

"We need Cris for the accidents also, like young fellows go pig hunting at night and one fell out the back of a ute recently, so he's not very good and had a lot of hospital time, so Cris went and saw the family."

She said Mr Jones's work went above and beyond the normal scope of a psychologist.

"He was bringing out food vouchers and he gave me a pile because I was giving him names of people to see," Ms Cranwell said.

"I gave about five or six hundred dollars worth of vouchers to a lady just before Christmas and she had three children."

Funding dries up under new system

Unfortunately the service Crispian Jones provides is now under threat, with Federal Government funding through the Primary Health Network ending next month.



"What I'm doing to safeguard my care for those people if this thing stops, is I'm offering pro bono services to people out there if they want to come to Cairns," Mr Jones said.

The Primary Health Network said it was moving to a new model of mental health care to better service patients according to regional needs, and Mr Jones had been informed so he could submit a tender.

But Mr Jones said he believed the stepped care model will not work in the bush, so he is seeking funding from elsewhere.

He is aiming to to produce a documentary, which will then be used to garner public and private investment with a view to expanding the program.

"In my patch I need about $200,000. That's for a 12-month period, but more broadly who knows?" Mr Jones said.

"We're taking it to a larger audience, a national focus. We're not quite sure how it's going to work out yet but that's our goal."

Ms Cranwell said it was vital the service continued.

"It's invaluable and we must try to keep him going. He's done a heck of a good job and if I had the funding I'd keep him going myself," she said.


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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