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Health professionals join forces with community to treat mental health in Grafton


Sharlene King
7 August 2012
While treating mental health problems has become a national priority, identifying and treating the low levels of depression and anxiety that affect one in three Australians is proving difficult for GPs and nurses.

Now in an Australian first, a low intensity, community-based mental health intervention called Act-Belong-Commit (ABC), is being trialled in a clinical setting at Grafton on the NSW North Coast, thanks to a partnership between the North Coast Medicare Local, Southern Cross University and the Australian Lifestyle Medicine Association.

“We have medication for melancholic depression and severe depression. But about 30 to 40 per cent of the population suffers from anxiety and other forms of less severe depression,” said Dr Garry Egger, Professor of Lifestyle Medicine at Southern Cross University.

“Research shows that doctors, practice nurses and allied health professionals are confused about how to treat people with low intensity depression. Doctors tell us they are tired of handing out drugs which have side effects and they want to offer their patients alternative options.”

Act-Belong-Commit started out as a public health program in Western Australia.

It will be introduced to health professionals within the North Coast Medicare Local region (extending from Port Macquarie to Tweed Heads) at a free workshop, ‘Lifestyle medicine and mood states’, to be held at the Grafton GP Super Clinic on Saturday, August 11.

Following the workshop the ABC program will be rolled out in Grafton in conjunction with Clarence Valley Council, enabling doctors and allied health professionals (like practice nurses, dieticians and exercise physiologists) to work as a team to assist patients with depression and anxiety.

“ABC has never been placed in a clinical setting where doctors, practice nurses and other health care professionals use it on a one to one basis with their patients. That’s the difference between the public health and the clinical medicine approach,” said Dr Egger, who is speaking at the workshop.

“For the first time in the country we are integrating clinical practices with the local council services in recreation, sport and other activities.”

Dr Egger created the successful Gut Busters weight loss program for men – and he has similar aspirations for ABC.

“Our goal is for the NSW North Coast to become the prime area in the country for the training of the practitioners in chronic disease management, particularly lifestyle medicine in relation to chronic diseases.”

The ABC program has the support of North Coast Medicare Local chief executive officer Vahid Saberi.

“We are enthusiastic to be working in partnership with such a group of professionals and organisations to build the capacity of health workforce in the region,” said Mr Saberi.

Sandhya Fernandez, North Coast Medicare Local general manager for the Coffs region, agreed.

“It is an example of how partnerships can work for the benefit of the community,” Ms Fernandez said.

For more information or to register for the ‘Lifestyle medicine and mood states’ workshop on August 11 at the Grafton GP Super Clinic, contact the Australian Lifestyle Medicine Association on 02 9977 7753.

Joining Dr Egger as a guest speaker at the workshop is Curtin University’s Professor of Behavioural Research in Cancer, Dr Rob Donovan. Dr Donovan developed the Act-Belong-Commit program.

The workshop is approved by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and endorsed by the Royal College of Nursing Australia. Participants are eligible for CPD points/hours.
Photo: Dr Garry Egger, Professor of Lifestyle Medicine at Southern Cross University.