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Opinion/Commentary

Let’s broaden discussions on mental health and fix the system

Paper head with heart in the brain

Image: iStock

 

Content Warning: mental health and suicide

Last week had RUOK Day and Suicide Awareness Day. Media personalities and my former high school were encouraging people to check in on loved ones and reach out.

That’s all lovely. I mean it. Everyone has times when they need to talk about issues. Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on.

But what if your issues run deeper? What if you are really at crisis point?

Psychotherapies: a major gap in mental health

When RUOK Day comes around, there’s focus on depression, anxiety and the devastating affects of suicide.

While these discussions are a must, I believe there needs to be more. There are more mental illnesses that need advocacy and treatments. These include (but not limited to):

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Substance use disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

All these disorders have a higher suicide rate compared to the general population.

The mental health discussion doesn’t go into the need for psychotherapies such as: dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). These are beyond the scope of Lifeline and Beyond Blue.

Mental health: a gap in Australia’s Medicare system

Australia has Medicare. It was first introduced in 1984. For the most part, Medicare allows Australians to access GPs and public hospitals for treatment without being left thousands of dollars out of pocket.

However, when it comes to mental health, there is a massive gap.

The Better Access Initiative

The Better Access Initiative is a scheme that gives eligible people the access to mental health services they need.

Unfortunately, it has its limits. According to Australia’s Department of Health website, the scheme offers 10 individual and 10 group therapy sessions a year.

For some people, this may be adequate. But if you require weekly or bi-weekly therapy, it’s not. For example, to be affective, a person with BPD needs bi-weekly DBT sessions a year. That’s at least 52 individual and 52 group therapy.

Australian Psychological Society encouraged change

In 2019, the Australian Psychological Society published a media release. They warned that the access to mental health services to Australians who needed it was inadequate.

In the media release, APS made a number of recommendations including:

  • More individual sessions available
  •  Group therapy sessions
  • An increase in therapy sessions for families and carers

Now, I’m guessing the Australian Government has implemented the changes by making the increase from ten to 20 sessions a year.

The APS should fight for more.

Follow UK’s example: make mental health free

Australia should look toward UK’s National Health Service (NHS). I get it has its pitfalls, but it’s philosophy is good. Mental health services should be free, even if a referral from a GP or psychiatrist is required.

Maybe the current Medicare Levy may need to be increased. Boris Johnson recently increased NHS rate another 1.25%. Maybe we should do similar here.

How much is a life worth? How much is mental health worth?

At minimum, the Government should  offer free services to people with serious mental health conditions. It may just save lives.

 

People with serious and chronic mental health issues need more than platitudes. They need more than once – a – year campaigns. They need services that they can access without going out of pocket.

What do you think? What changes can the Australian Government make to improve mental health care? Let me know your thoughts below.