More threads by Halo


By Matthew Franklin
January 03, 2007

THE extent of Australia's mental health crisis has become clear with psychologists and GPs billing more than 45,000 consultations in the first month of a scheme that gives them the right to provide counselling under Medicare.

Mental health experts believe the majority of patients treated in these consultations had not previously received treatment.

"This is great news for the patients (and) also for their families and friends who would have been informal carers for these people over a long period of time," Parliamentary Secretary for Health Christopher Pyne said yesterday.

"I am just glad that those people who need help are getting help."

The Federal Government included a four-year, $1.9 billion attack on mental health in May's budget after John Howard said too many people with mental illness were falling through the cracks of the health system.

Figures obtained by The Australian yesterday show the first month after the changes took effect on November 1 saw a huge take-up of the new services including 27,303 GP consultations to create individual mental health plans; 11,376 therapy sessions delivered by GPs; more than 1000 therapy sessions provided by clinical psychologists; and about 5500 "focused psychological strategy services" provided by psychologists, occupational therapists and social workers to provide back-up support for the ill.

Australian Psychological Society president Amanda Gordon said the figures proved that a large number of Australians who had needed help had previously been unable to access counselling.

She said that while some patients would have already been seeing psychologists, most would be first-time patients unable to afford treatment without the Medicare subsidy.

"And many people would be from outside cities in places without psychiatrists," Ms Gordon said. "They previously had nowhere to go in their own communities and now they can see psychologists and GPs on Medicare."

Australian Medical Association vice-president Choong-Siew Yong said psychiatrists tended to focus on people with acute psychiatric illnesses.

But this left serious problems such as depression and anxiety disorders untreated in thousands of people.

"It certainly illustrates the amount of unmet need that was there," Dr Yong said of the figures.

"The next thing is to see in the long term whether it does affect outcomes for people with mental health problems."

Mr Pyne said about 820 clinical psychologists had registered to provide specialist mental health therapy under the new system.

Although take-up of the new services was huge, the Government had provided enough funding to prevent a cost blow-out.

"A lot of people with mental health issues were not getting the attention they needed," Mr Pyne said.

"It would not be an exaggeration to say tens of thousands of people are getting help who otherwise might not have been.

"We hope to see people getting over their problems and returning to the workforce or their families."

Mr Pyne also called on state governments to heed the success of the commonwealth actions and boost their spending on mental health.

States had last year agreed to match the commonwealth funding by spending more on community support for the mentally ill and in helping sufferers when they came into contact with the criminal justice system.

But so far the states had allocated only $830 million in new funding. "They've got a long way to go," Mr Pyne said.


Dr. Meg, Global Moderator, Practitioner
It's so great that it is easier to get mental health care in Australia now

The scheme could be improved upon, but this is a huge step in the right direction :)
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