The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell has welcomed the $5 billion Future Drought Fund to support farmers and communities in rural and regional Australia suggesting the focus on expanded mental health services is vital for farming families that are doing it tough. However, Carnell believes small business owners could also benefit from support services.
“Running a farm or a small business during an extensive period of drought is one of the toughest situations to be in as a business owner,” Carnell said.
“While this new fund will deliver crucial water infrastructure and drought resilience projects, it will also provide more access for more people to mental health services and support. Never underestimate the importance of mental health. We know that one in five Australians will experience a mental health issue at some stage in their life.
During prolonged periods of drough, farmers are particularly vulnerable to high levels of stress, with beyondblue research showing significant rates of suicidal ideation.
“This is why additional mental health services are so crucial. The more support for farmers and small business owners facing high rates of stress and depression, the better,” Carnell said.
The increase to funding for mental health services by $15.5 million will go towards early intervention and community well-being services.
“Early intervention is key. A further $3.6 million will expand Medicare Benefit Services to enable local doctors to offer mental well-being support services via telehealth to rural and remote patients,” Carnell said.
The government has also pledged $30 million to key charities to provide support to at least 10,000 households facing hardship.
“As long as these funds are used within the drought-affected communities, it should provide a much-needed injection back to those who need it most; the small and family businesses trying to keep afloat during these periods of prolonged drought,” Carnell concluded.