Lack of phone credit remains a barrier to people in rural and remote areas being able to reach help when feeling low, Australia's first text counselling service reports.
Dervla Loughnane pioneered Virtualpsychologist to open up access to mental health professionals for people at Dubbo and other regions "too afraid, or too uncomfortable or too embarrassed" to call or go to face-to-face support.
She reports of the model's effectiveness, with 68 per cent of people using the free service saying they would not have used any other option, but also of a further obstacle.
"... we get people who say 'I'd love to reach out, but I don't have any credit on my phone'," Mrs Loughnane said.
The feedback has led her to call on more carriers to make texts to Virtualpsychologist for free.
It comes after Optus announced this month it would continue its relationship with Virtualpsychologist.
For postpaid and prepaid customers who don't have plans with text allowances included, the telco has enabled free text rates to ensure they can access support, earning the praise of Mrs Loughnane.
"So the fact the number has been zero rated means that, and for a lot of the youth, who actually are on prepaid, this makes a huge difference," she said.
"It was fantastic of Optus, it showed great leadership by their CEO and it was actually backed by their CEO who said this has to happen."
Optus highlighted the importance of well-being and mental health support services available to customers in rural and remote areas as communities have dealt with drought, bushfires and the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's certainly been a challenging few months with restrictions in place on top of recovering from the devastating bushfires, causing people to feel more isolated from their support networks," Optus head of regional Marcus Grimes said.
"Not having regular access to sufficient mobile data to stay connected adds to this existing challenge.
"As a critical service provider, we recognise that having connectivity in place during this time is essential and want to ensure our customers are aware of the mental health and well-being support services that are available to them."
In February, Optus partnered with Virtualpsychologist to spread the service's message to Dubbo and the Orana region as part of a two-week roadshow.
"We are grateful to be continuing our relationship with the Virtualpsychologist and furthering our joint efforts across regional Australia, ensuring even those living in some of the most remote parts of the country can access their valuable services," Mr Grimes said.