Jacqui Wilkinson, Emily Wolsey, Shannon Sharkey and Andrew White of the ACDC Project conduct a door-to-door mental health survey in the Macedon Ranges Shire. ​

By Colin MacGillivray

About a quarter of Macedon Ranges residents are living with mental health issues, with two thirds of those experiencing anxiety according to a new mental health and wellbeing survey.

The Assisting Communities through Direct Connection, ACDC, Project undertook door-to-door community surveys across Australia, gauging people’s mental wellbeing with a series of questions between October and February.

Project workers spoke with and provided information to 665 householders in Gisborne and Romsey, 330 of whom then completed a survey of their experiences with mental health and accessing support.

More than 30 per cent of Macedon Ranges residents listed COVID-19 as a large problem for their community, with housing, 15 per cent, and financial stress, 13 per cent, also common answers. Nearly one in five also listed climate change as a significant challenge in their lives.

About 5.2 per cent of people reported a very high level of psychological distress, higher than the national average of 4.2 per cent.

A quarter of respondents said they were currently living with mental health problems, with anxiety, 63 per cent, and depression, 59 per cent, by far the most prevalent.

ACDC Project Macedon Ranges line manager Jacqui Wilkinson said the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns affected the collective mental health of the region.

She said a lack of mental health support services exacerbated the problems caused by the pandemic.

“In the Macedon Ranges we are between two PHNs, which are primary health networks. There is a bit of a gap that is quite evident to many locals,” she said.

“We were expecting that there were lots of mental health concerns and lots of wellbeing issues, especially with COVID. It’s been a rough period of time for a lot of people, so the results were fairly well in line with what we were expecting.

“We need more support services available … they are quite limited. We know you can go to a GP and get a mental health care plan and be referred to a psychologist or other mental health services, but the wait times are insane at the moment.

“People aren’t able to get in anywhere locally [because] we don’t have a lot available to local residents, so they’re left to go into Melbourne or places like Bendigo. There is quite a drive.”

Ms Wilkinson said both young and elderly people were disproportionately affected by the lack of services.

“Younger people may not want to have a chat to their family or people at school, and their public transport options are very limited,” she said.

“A lot of the elderly people also either don’t drive or won’t drive any further than their local town, so that also poses more challenges.

“With COVID lockdowns, a lot of older people aren’t able to use Zoom or Facetime for telehealth, so they were really isolated and shut off from the services that were adapted for that time.”

But Ms Wilkinson said mental health concerns were present across all age groups and demographics.

She said people were often happy to have someone listen to their stories after being isolated during COVID.

“It was nice to have quite a mix of people who were happy to have a chat to us and open up, but one of the things that came through from all of them was that they just haven’t had anyone to talk to because of COVID,” she said.

“They just wanted to talk and let everything out because it had all bottled up through COVID and being so isolated and detached from what was happening.

“To have someone listen to them with no judgement, they were so grateful for that. Just hearing the stories of how many people have been affected is just huge.”

ACDC Project manager and Community Mental Health Australia chief executive Bill Gye said the findings gave important insight into how mental health issues in the Macedon Ranges could be addressed.

“The fact that one in five householders said that they would benefit from more support for their mental health indicates that many people do not take that important first step or may not know where to go,” he said.

“This data allows local planners to get a better idea of what supports are missing, or what local services need to do to be seen to be more accessible or appropriate.”

The final report of the ACDC Project, along with recommendations for how the mental health and wellbeing sector can better meet the needs of communities, is scheduled to be released in late 2022.

The ACDC Project is funded by the Federal Government’s Department of Social Services.

People can view the full findings and community report from the Macedon Ranges area at acdc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Macedon-Ranges-Community-Report.pdf.

More information about the ACDC Project is available at www.acdc.org.au.

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