At least one in five Queenslanders will experience mental illness this year, Mental Health Minister Curtis Pitt said.

Minister Pitt will host a live Twitter Chat with Rural Mental Health (RMH) tonight between 7.30pm and 9pm to talk about ways to improve services for people with mental health problems right across Queensland.

“More than half a million Queenslanders will experience mental illness in any given year, many from rural and remote parts of the state,” Mr Pitt said.

“We’re expecting even more people to be affected in the next few years, as rates of mental illness tend to significantly increase after natural disasters,” he said.

“Social networking sites – like the Queensland Police Service Facebook and Twitter streams – proved to be a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of people from right across Queensland, Australia and the world.

“These sites allowed people to check on family and friends, get the latest information about what was happening and how to seek help.

“Now, as we move into the next phase of recovery, we want to use the same tools to reach out to people and let them know it is ok to ask for help.

“I’m from Far North Queensland and I meet people almost every day who tell me it’s hard going to get back on their feet – emotionally as well as physically – after Cyclone Yasi and I know people are struggling after the floods too.

“I invite anyone who wants to learn more about the mental health services available in Queensland to join our chat, and to share ideas about how we can best support all Queenslanders experiencing mental illness.”

Mr Pitt said a range of clinical services were available for people with severe mental illness however the focus of the chat is to find better ways to bolster community mental health services and supports and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

“I know from personal experience how important it is to ask for help in hard times. My first daughter, Isabel, was stillborn and I don’t know how my wife and I would have coped without the support of Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Support (SANDS) Queensland,” he said.

Alison Fairleigh, one of the people who created the Rural Mental Health (RMH) Twitter group said she was moved to start the group after three men in her small sugar cane community committed suicide within three weeks.

“Our whole community was rocked by a spate of suicides and I wanted to spread the word that it’s ok to ask for help. We can’t label and say ‘she’ll be right mate’ – it doesn’t work like that,” Ms Fairleigh said.

Rural Mental Health Twitter chats are be held every second Wednesday between 7:30pm and 9.00pm (AEST). To get involved, follow the Twitter hashtag #ruralmh.

People can follow Mr Pitt on Facebook and also on Twitter (@Curtis_Pitt_MP).