Rural doctor reflects on changes in treating mental health

ABC Rural

Queensland rural doctor and academic Tarun Sen Gupta has seen many changes in the treatment of mental health. Queensland rural doctor and academic Tarun Sen Gupta has seen many changes in the treatment of mental health.

We often talk about the patients in rural communities dealing with mental health issues, but what about the doctors who help them?

Many young medical students are sent to rural and remote communities as a requirement for their studies, preparation not offered to those before them.

Queensland doctor and academic, Tarun Sen Gupta has worked in medicine for more than 30 years. At the age of 24 he was sent to Richmond in north-west Queensland, with very little knowledge of how to appropriately treat mental health issues.

"It was a terrific introduction to rural medicine, but maybe what I wasn't really prepared for was the stress that things like drought and wool prices were causing," he said.

"Behind closed doors you would talk about depression and anxiety and I had to find ways to help those people."

As a young doctor treating people with depression and other mental health issues, Mr Sen Gupta found it difficult to stop that becoming a stress in his life.

Even today many of the cases Mr Sen Gupta treated stay with him, particularly the many farmers he met during his six years at Richmond. He found often patients suffering from depression had turned to substance abuse or violence.

"These were often tough people from the land, really resilient but they were worn away year after year of things going wrong," Mr Sen Gupta said.

While he did treat his patients successfully, Mr Sen Gupta admitted today's medical students are much better equipped to deal with mental health.

He trains medical students at James Cook University in Townsville, and said he has seen many changes and developments in student preparation.

James Cook University student, Michael Johnston, has just returned to Townsville after placement in the remote New Zealand town of Ashburton.

When the 20-year-old arrived he was told of the high prevalence of mental health issues within the small community. Many of the patients he spoke with were struggling farmers, and it overwhelmed him in the beginning.

The opportunity to help those patients has now confirmed what Mr Johnston always knew: he wants become a rural doctor. "As a medical student I've seen countless cases of people with mental health issues. “It’s really eye-opening and it makes me want to work harder to be able to help people with these issues."

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