A mental health crisis… and we’re cutting support
It was really hard for Sharon* to reach out for help.
For a while now her sleep had been terrible, and each morning she woke up feeling tired and thinking that her life was pointless. She felt alone, scared and full of self-doubt. Sharon had very little motivation and her head was filled with thoughts of failure. Her GP thought it would be a good idea to see a psychologist, so she called the number and made an appointment.
There was no quick fix. Sharon hadn’t told her GP, but as a child she had been subjected to repeated sexual abuse. It wasn’t something she could share at first because she didn’t feel safe trusting anyone with this. For the first few months she just told the psychologist what they wanted to hear.
By the time she built up the courage to face her fears Medicare support was cut off. Being unable to afford therapy on her own hit Sharon hard. From her point of view, she had opened up and was promptly turned away.
Next year Medicare support for psychological treatment is being scaled back to 10 appointments, with no exceptions. In a case like Sharon’s there are no other realistic treatment options - it was difficult enough for her to trust anybody to begin with.
We know from research that people often need around 20 appointments for common mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In a lot of cases when we offer 10 sessions, and no more, it barely scratches the surface. The danger is that the system can leave a person feeling exposed and without any options to work through the problems they are facing.
The current mental health system has patchy delivery. Services vary from one Medicare Locals region to the next and they change all the time. Mental health professionals struggle to keep up with whether a patient can get into a program and the fragmented entry criteria leave people who reach out feeling confused about whether anyone can help them.
That’s the reason why thousands of people are calling on the Government to expand Medicare support for psychological treatment, rather than scaling it back.
Our first National Mental Health Report Card released last month showed that Australia needs to greatly expand support and treatment options right across society. It is very difficult to see how a reduction in Medicare access to psychological services is going to help.
The problem we face as a whole society is similar to the challenge that Sharon faces. Our shadows won’t vanish by turning a blind eye. We need our politicians to make the time to listen. Like many others, my hope is that those who make policy may come to understand that people need time to work through their difficulties. A lot of people don’t know these cuts to psychological treatment are coming, but if they did, I get the sense that we may well be able to turn this decision around.
If you can spare a moment, let others know and tell the Minister for Mental Health that 10 sessions is not enough (firstname.lastname@example.org).
* Sharon is a hypothetical case example, with a presentation that is frequently encountered in referrals through the Better Access initiative and other similar treatment and support programs
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