The geography of mental health

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Dr. G Murugesan is awarded the OAM for service to psychiatry. RAJNI ANAND LUTHRA reports

While the mentally ill in general are considered to be vulnerable as a group, those who are mentally ill and live in rural communities can be said to be at a greater disadvantage due to limited access to health care and a scarcity of resources.

Dr Ganapathi Murugesan, one of the recipients of the OAM in this year’s Australia Day honours, helps develop strategies for the delivery of mental health services in rural areas in NSW.

He is Medical Superintendent and Director of Rehabilitation, Bloomfield Mental Health Services, Bloomfield Hospital , Orange .

When the drought hit parts of NSW in the early 2000s, rural communities were severely affected: not only was there an economic downturn, but there was also a rise in mental health problems. The Rural Adversity Mental Health program was then set up to address the mental health concerns of people in our rural regions.

Dr. Murugesan’s work involves providing the support systems necessary to help rural residents in managing and coping with stress and mental health problems that have arisen from their particular set of problems.

It is a problem we are likely to see more of, as climate change takes greater hold.

Dr Murugesan has been with the Program since 2001. At the same time, he continues his own practice at Wentworthville’s Northside West clinic.

Over a 35-year career, Dr Murugesan has worked in a variety of roles: not only with rural adversity mental health, but also at the military hospital, at a women’s prison, with transcultural mental health. He has also taught psychiatry at the Universities of Newcastle and Wollongong .  On top of medical practice, Dr Murugesan has also been extensively involved in medical administration such as in healthcare standards and as superintendent of a large Sydney hospital, and in medico-legal roles.  Much of his leisure time, when he can squeeze some out, is spent with the Indian community organisation AIMGA (Australian Indian Medical Graduates Association) of which he has been an executive committee member.

“It feels great to be recognised for my life’s work,” Dr Murugesan told Indian Link.

Dr Murugesan hails from Tamil Nadu in India . His family moved to Malaysia when he was a child, and he finished university there. He came to Australia in 1977. In his current practice, Dr Murugesan is seeing a rise in the number of patients with depression.

“It’s one of our biggest problems and is going to take on epidemic proportions,” he warns. “Statistics reveal that one on five people will be affected, and the WHO has said recently that by 2020, depression will be second only to heart disease in the International Burden of Disease ranking”.

Thankfully, he says, many new trends are also coming up as intervention, so there is help at hand.

“Although it can hit any age group really, older people are particularly vulnerable”.

But depression and anxiety are in any case more common here, as compared to India , he states. “This is partly because of the different nature of our societies”.

What are the trends if any, is he observing amongst the Indian community here?

“It’s geography again, you know. Most of the problems are those that manifest in relation to adjusting to the change of culture. Underlying problems surface in the form of relationship issues… Fortunately, the wider mainstream is largely welcoming. Also, it is much easier to seek and get help”.

So what advice does Dr Murugesan give to new arrivals here?

“Integrate well with the mainstream. You must keep in touch with your own culture no doubt, but if you’ve chosen to live and work in this country, you must think and feel like Australians”.