A new NSW rural mental health network will help tackle gay suicide and social isolation, but community groups say it is only a partial solution to improving the lives of gays in the bush.

ACON is set to join the new Rural Mental Health Network next week following an invitation from the NSW Farmers’ Association.

The Association launched the network on Tuesday with 19 other groups including Lifeline and the national depression initiative beyondblue.

The network has handed a blueprint containing 22 proposed strategies to the state and federal governments, including better access to crisis lines and counselling services.

With ACON’s input it will also examine mental health issues that affect rural gay communities, such as depression, homophobia and youth suicide.

Earlier this year, a nationwide gay health survey that included rural respondents found same-sex-attracted people reported higher levels of depression than heterosexuals. And 16 percent of participants had thought about suicide in the two weeks prior to doing the survey.

Not every individual who’s involved in this network is going to be really up to speed on issues affecting gay and lesbian people living in rural areas, ACON chief executive Stevie Clayton told Sydney Star Observer.

Working with those services to make them more accessible will be a significant improvement in services for people from our community in those areas.

But Clayton said inadequate funding remained a huge, huge problem and the new network was barely going to touch the sides as a response to gay mental health.

When you add on to that issues of homophobia and people in our community being denied access to appropriate services, it just doubles the problem of them accessing the right sort of services, she said.

NSW Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service co-president Michael Nelson told the Star the network was a welcome start but nowhere near enough when rural gay communities still faced serious difficulties accessing health services.

Mental health has been grossly under-funded from a state and commonwealth level for decades, so anything that’s an increase will be welcome, he said.

Any addition to services for mental health anywhere in the state would be welcome. The only qualification would be it’s probably nowhere near enough.

Nelson said about one-third of callers to the Counselling Service’s telephone support line came from country areas, where services for the gay and lesbian community and health services in general are more limited.

Those in rural areas usually expressed the same problems seen in the city, such as isolation and being unhappy in a heterosexual relationship.

But the solutions tend to be harder [in the country] in that there are not as many services, Nelson said.

There are less open communities and less support groups but that’s not to say that there aren’t any.

There’s certainly more [rural gay communities] than there used to be but it’s still very small compared to what’s available in Sydney.

The Rural Mental Health Network launch comes a week after Big Brother contestant and gay farmer David Graham came out to his townspeople on television.

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