Across the political spectrum, there is a growing recognition that more needs to be done on mental health. Recently, the Morrison Government announced an extra $2.3 billion for mental health alongside the opening of a new organisation to fill the gap past the age of access for Headspace, which assists young people through the age of 25. Throughout the first year of the pandemic, they even increased the number of sessions available on the mental health plan.
However, do not think for one minute the Morrison Government is doing anywhere near enough to actively address it. There are problems with Australia's current mental health system that need to be addressed now.
In order to get treatment for mental health, one must currently go through their GP, request a mental health plan, find a psychologist, and then attend 6 meetings. This can later be expanded (assuming the Morrison Government don’t cut that) but again, you must go back through your GP.
There are myriad problems with this process. It lowers the accessibility of the service, and thus accessibility to mental health care.
First of all is the energy required to go through all of this. In many cases, mental health issues can sap people of energy that enables them to do everyday tasks. This may be having a shower, making a phone call, or even getting out of bed. In order to follow through with this process, time and energy must be put in, which can be a hurdle that many people are unable to pass through, especially if they are not in a healthy mind space.
Secondly, it requires a good working relationship with one’s GP. In a time where many people, particularly young people, are moving around a lot due to financial situations and the cost of housing and renting (particularly in the cities), many people do not have a consistent relationship with their GP. In order to receive a mental health plan, you need to call up and organise a specific appointment with a specific doctor, and then disclose all of the issues one has in order to get ‘the best service required’. Disclosing information about mental health is a very frightening thing to do, and assuming that it is possible for all people with mental health issues locks a fair amount of people out from getting help.
There are 6 rebates available for psychologist appointments that can then be raised to 10, and then 20 if needed. This is fewer than two appointments per month. For many people, especially those in the midst of a mental health episode, this is not nearly enough. Furthermore, it can take many sessions to find the right psychologist, which in turn can put people off seeking treatment before their condition worsens. Limiting it to a maximum of 20 appointments disincentivises people from finding a suitable mental health professional for them.
Not only do people who are attempting to receive financial aid for mental health issues face all of the above, but the Medicare rebate doesn’t always include the full psychologist costs. Medicare will rebate you for $124.50 for a 50+ minute session, or $84.80 for a 30-50 minute session. If the cost of the session is greater than this, you have to pay the difference. Furthermore, if someone is required to go on medication, that’s a further out of pocket fee. Regardless of one’s socio-economic status they should be able to access the same quality of health care in every form, including mental health.
While there been signs of change with the release of the Review of Mental Health programs in 2014, there is still a lot to be done in making mental health care more accessible. With approximately 1 in 5 Australians facing a mental health issue each year, it is essential that the left continues to fight for accessible, fully funded mental health care. NSW Labor Enabled has recently launched, and it is essential that the Left stays engaged with it, to push for these reforms - regardless of if you identify as having a disability or not.
The Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan was released in October 2020 and outlines plans and targets on every level of government until 2022 in order to support Australians with mental health issues. While it has been endorsed by the Morrison Government, they has failed to appropriately support it through funding, nor has it been keeping to the plan. In order to support some of the most vulnerable Australians, we must have an accessible health care system that does not require hoops to jump through and leaves you out of pocket like the current system does.
If you or someone you love is struggling with their mental health, support is always available from Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Kiz Jackson is a Labour, Union and Disability Activist, and helped set up NSW Labor Enabled Twitter