The tyranny of distance in rural Australia means many people can't access mental health services. Photo by Richard Fox.

The tyranny of distance in rural Australia means many people can't access mental health services. Photo by Richard Fox.

Mental health help for the bush

The tyranny of distance means many rural Australians are missing out on vital mental health services. But, as KATE PRESTT uncovers, ANU research and programs are creating lifelines in the bush.

In her teens Jan Ashe felt depressed. It was more than the normal teenage hormones.

Diagnosed with bipolar at 14 years old, she saw a psychologist and psychiatrist.

Over the years Jan has learned ways to live with what can sometimes be a debilitating illness.

"You could describe having bipolar like living on a rollercoaster," Ashe says.

"When it gets bad I tell people it's only part of me, not all of me."

Ashe lives on a 404-hectare sheep and cropping property in the small community of Tullamore, 125 kilometres south-west of Dubbo.

She knows first-hand how hard it can be for those in rural and remote Australia to manage with limited face-to-face services available.

"Those living in remote and regional Australia don't have access to the services and the information people in the city have, an issue the government should take more seriously," Ashe says.

"If you are working, there is a real challenge to find the time to access face-to-face services.

"You have a choice of either a three-hour round trip one way, or four hours the other way and when you're depressed who wants to do that."

In 2007, Ashe's eldest daughter was killed just before Christmas on her way home from her first leave from the Navy.

The loss of her daughter saw Ashe struggle to differentiate between grief and depression. She was also diagnosed with anxiety.

Ashe has learned to not only manage her illness with medication but also professional help and by accessing e-mental health programs.

She is also lucky to have the love and support of her friends and family.