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Resource company Mitsubishi Development is funding a $500,000 pilot program to improve mental health services for people in the Bowen Basin as communities deal with the impact of COVID-19.

The program is being run out of Wesley Medical Research’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Centre and aims to develop a new model of care to improve mental health outcomes.

Mitsubishi Development has a stake in seven metallurgical coal mines in the Bowen Basin and the Hay Point export terminal in Mackay through its 50-50 joint venture with BHP, known as the BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA).

Mitsubishi Development chief executive Officer Sadahiko Haneji said that while the resources sector had kept many Australians employed during the coronavirus crisis, there were many more in the community suffering job losses in sectors that would not recover quickly.

“In our discussions with Wesley Medical Research we were concerned by new modelling that indicates Australia’s suicide rate could surge by up to 50 per cent as the impacts of job loss and economic hardship start to affect mental health,” Mr Haneji said.

“We have more than 50 years of experience operating in the Bowen Basin and know that mental health issues are more prevalent amongst the young and those who live in rural and regional Australia – so there was no question that we would act on this.”

Wesley Medical Research general manager Dr Claudia Giurgiuman said COVID-19 could result in an extra 750 to 1500 suicides in Australia this year – a rate that is likely to persist for up to five years if the economic downturn lasts more than 12 months.

“At this stage, the suicide rate is likely to overshadow the number of deaths in Australia directly attributable to COVID-19 infection, and Australia’s mental health system must urgently be equipped to respond to the expected dramatic increase in demand for services,” Dr Giurgiuman said.

“When Mitsubishi Development approached us with their concerns, we designed a program that will have immediate impact in the Bowen Basin community by enabling access to a new evidence-based model of care to improve mental health outcomes.”

The tailormade program will access more than one million data points, including interviews with community members to identify existing mental health services and how they can be improved for individuals in the Bowen Basin following the impact of COVID-19.

In collaboration with QUT’s Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation, a model of care will be designed to support individuals that complements existing services, with a pilot conducted as early as August to trial its effectiveness in mitigating mental health impacts resulting from the coronavirus.

The Wesley Medical Research’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Centre was launched in Brisbane last week by Queensland Governor Paul de Jersey. 

IMAGE: Lead researcher Dr Bridget Abell and Mitsubishi Development chief executive officer Sadahiko Haneji with Governor of Queensland Paul de Jersey and general manager of Wesley Medical Research, Dr Claudia Giurgiuman.