Four ways to mental health fix
AS a nation, our mental health has been collectively challenged like never before.
The frustration involved in getting help when we really need it is wearing us down and those providing the help are also fed up. A survey of psychologists last year showed 78 per cent of their clients exhibited more distress, anxiety or depression, and 47 per cent were unable to take on new clients.
While we’re sure to hear plenty about mental health spending on federal budget night, the Australian Association of Psychologists is urging the government to consider four straightforward, achievable and cost-effective recommendations to address the national mental health crisis.
ONE-tier Medicare rebate for clients of all registered psychologists; RAISE the Medicare rebate to $150 a session to enable more bulk billing and timely treatment; IMPLEMENT the Productivity Commission recommendation for up to 40 rebated sessions a year; and ESTABLISH a “provisional psychologist” Medicare rebate which would allow about 6400 extra psychologists to provide affordable support to address the overwhelming demand.
A discriminatory Medicare system divides psychologists into two rebate categories: those with clinical endorsement and those without. Clients of registered psychologists are rebated $88 for a 50-minute session, while clients of clinical psychologists are rebated at $129 for the same kind of service.
Australians can only access the higher rebate when seeing clinical psychologists, who represent just 30 per cent of all psychologists. This means 70 per cent of psychologists are placed on a lower Medicare rebate, despite research showing all psychologists achieve equivalent, excellent treatment outcomes.
Most of the government’s mental health initiatives to date, like mental health hubs, are based on a reshuffling of an already stretched workforce while not properly addressing a shortage of psychologists. Instead, entire areas of psychological practice are seeing dwindling numbers of graduates.
A provisional psychologist rebate would encourage more university places and more psychologists in the future. The two-tier rebate system is also impeding access to mental health services in rural, regional and outer suburban areas.
Australia needs to start flattening the mental health curve.
We simply cannot afford the farreaching effects. These four simple solutions would drastically ease the mental health catastrophe. It is no longer looming; it is here and now.
TEGAN CARRISON IS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF AUSTRALIAN ASSOCIATION OF PSYCHOLOGISTS INC