SOCIAL INNOVATOR: Megan Gomez is helping connect rural folk with mental health practitioners
SOCIAL INNOVATOR: Megan Gomez is helping connect rural folk with mental health practitioners

Ex-journalist's social enterprise taking off during COVID

As A RURAL journalist, Megan Gomez saw first-hand the effects drought and fires could have on people.

After years of going into the homes of victims, listening to their stories and seeing their struggles, Ms Gomez decided enough was enough.

She was going to do something about it.

"Going into people's homes and seeing the impacts first-hand on their mental health, among other things and also knowing how far from town they are, how little privacy they have," she said.

"Often there's not even a psychologist locally anyway, or there is not a lot of choice with who you see and there's certainly not specialists or anything like that."

"Knowing that people were having to deal with these issues alone, I wanted to do something to help."

In 2012, Ms Gomez moved to Rockhampton and it was here she stepped away from the journalism industry and began to build her own social enterprise.

After being faced with the reality of rural struggles for years, Ms Gomez devised a plan to use technology to bridge the distance between people and practitioners and thus Rural Health Connect was born.

"Its been a slow process, the software development took years," she said.

"I started roughly around three years ago and I had no idea what I was getting into when it started."

Despite the many challenges along the way, Ms Gomez persevered with support from the medical community as well as Rockhampton's Smart Hub community, where Rural Health Connect was born.

Now up and running, the service has proven to be revolutionary for those who need it.

"People are relieved, a lot of them using the service have been on waiting lists for weeks, so for them to have access to a psychologist is amazing," Ms Gomez said.

"I've spoken to people who have previously driven two hours into Rocky for a one hour appointment and then two hours back again."

To access the service, users must gain a referral and mental health plan from their GP.

From there it's as simple as heading to the website, logging in and choosing the psychologist that looks right for you.

Ms Gomez said although the service was made for rural folk, it was available for anyone to use.

Indeed, in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the service has provided a lifeline for those who need it.

"The whole COVID-19 thing has really fast tracked people's appreciation for doing things online and their recognition of telehealth as a way of accessing services like psychology," Ms Gomez said.

At present Rural Health Connect boasts a base of around 30 psychologists, however thanks to a recent partnership with the Australian Association of Psychologists Inc, Ms Gomez aims to expand this base significantly.

"AAPI are a national organisation and they're very supportive of people in rural areas," she said.

"We've been talking for a while and this new partnership is going to help in linking rural people with a wide range of psychologists who are keen to support rural areas.

"We'll also be better able to cater to specific needs or requirements."

According to Ms Gomez, now that the organisation's resources are improving, the next step in bettering the service is cultivating a better relationship with rural doctors.

"What we need now is support from the GPs, because we've created this solution which works well for people but the one group that is hard to reach are the GPs who do the referring," she said.