Wesley Medical Research lead researcher Dr Bridget Abell will head an investigation into mental health service gaps in the Bowen Basin.
Wesley Medical Research lead researcher Dr Bridget Abell will head an investigation into mental health service gaps in the Bowen Basin.

$500,000 mental health program for mining communities

THE suicide rate is expected to overshadow Australia's coronavirus death toll as the pandemic and associated recession create a deadly mix for vulnerable Australians.

But Bowen Basin researchers have announced a new mental health pilot program designed to help people and stop them falling through the gaps.

The $500,000 Wesley Medical Research project will access more than one million data points, including interviews with Bowen Basin residents, to improve mental health services during the COVID-19 crisis.

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Wesley Medical Research general manager Claudia Giurgiuman said the research, to be done in collaboration with the Queensland University of Technology, would help to create a tailor-made model of care by as early as August.

"We designed a program that will have immediate impact in the Bowen Basin community by enabling access to a new evidence-based model of care to improve mental health outcomes," Dr Giurgiuman said.

"At this stage, the suicide rate is likely to overshadow the number of deaths in Australia directly attributable to COVID-19 infection, and Australia's mental health system must be equipped to respond to the expected increase in demand for services."

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Dr Giurgiuman warned the pandemic and recession could result in an extra 750 to 1500 suicides this year.

The increased suicide rate could last for up to five years if the economic downturn lasts more than 12 months, she said.

The program has been funded by resources company Mitsubishi Development and CEO Sadahiko Haneji said the mental health toll of the pandemic could be devastating for the region.

"Australia's suicide rate could rise by up to 50 per cent as the impacts of job loss and economic hardship start to affect mental health," Mr Haneji said. "(And we) know that mental health issues are more prevalent amongst the young and those who live in rural and regional Australia, so there was no question that we would act on this."

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