With the recent government cuts to mental health funding, we explore the impact on Australian residents and psychologists.
Did you know mental illness is Australia’s leading chronic health condition, with over 5 million Australians suffering each year?
Mental illness is Australia’s leading chronic illness, but current figures will soar if we don’t act urgently,” said APS President Dr Catriona Davis-McCabe. “Psychology isn’t just about making people feel better, it’s about helping people become employable, stay in work, keep families together, let people live with dignity, and save lives.”
Federal Government cuts Mental Health Funding
In December 2022, the Federal Government decided to halve subsidized visits to mental health services. Patients are currently able to claim Medicare rebates for 10 visits to a psychologist or allied health service (down from 20 visits).
Impact Seen by Australians
An online forum discussed what Australians think about their access and affordability to mental health services.
People talked about the barrier of seeing a doctor to approve their mental health plan. One reported feeling gaslighted about obtaining a diagnosis. Others were afraid of not being taken seriously or being treated without empathy.
Some clients were using their credit cards to access mental health sessions and to pay for the large gap not covered by Medicare and their private health insurance. Others had gained benefits from talk therapy but were unable to afford the cost with no subsidy, so were forced to stop treatment.
Others admitted to skipping their prescribed medication because they were struggling with the cost of living and increasing rent. Others were turning to illegal drugs or binge smoking and, or drinking as unhealthy coping strategies.
Many people reported waiting over 6 months to access mental health services.
Staff in emergency departments said there was a significant increase in young patients reporting there for a mental health crisis, including self-harm or suicidal ideation.
One patient talked about how the rebates enabled them to see a psychologist for several sessions. As a result, they were able to find a job and get off Services Australia unemployment payments. In two months, they were able to pay their bills and mortgage and had a positive outlook on their life.
Impact Seen by Psychologists
The Australian Psychological Society conducted a survey about the impact of these Federal Government funding cuts:
- 96% of psychologists believe the cuts will have a significantly (81%) or moderately (15%) negative impact on patient mental health and other psychosocial factors such as employment, study, and healthy relationships.
- 95% of psychologists were very (64%) or somewhat (31%) concerned that preventable harm and deaths will increase due to subsidised Medicare sessions being cut from 20 to 10 sessions per year.
Half of the psychologists reported an increase in wait times. Many were reducing patient hours due to burnout or fatigue or considering taking extended leave.
Ways to Improve Mental Health Services in Australia
- Getting patients treated faster by removing GP referral requirements for the first 3 sessions
- Create a ‘youth mental health safety net’ to ensure people 16-24 years old can access affordable care.
- Boost perinatal care and adopt a 1:500 psychologist-to-student ratio at all primary and high schools.
- Replicate GP regional relocation incentives for psychologists to expand access to areas in most need.
- Allow the 8,000 provisional psychologists the ability to provide services under Medicare.
- Expand the APS national Disaster Response Network for communities experiencing natural disasters.
One psychology student thought the current registration process was extremely onerous. Work placements required supervision by a board-approved supervisor, who were scarce.
With the increase in living costs, we need to make access to mental health services in Australia affordable and as easy as possible.