Three million people are currently living with anxiety or depression in Australia, according to Beyond Blue. And, these are only two conditions of many that fall under the umbrella term ‘mental health’.
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
So, this means that there is a difference between mental health (which is basically your mental wellbeing) and mental health conditions (like depression, anxiety and schizophrenia).
The distinction is often muddled, so in this case, we’re referring to mental health conditions and the barriers Australian women face in accessing healthcare to treat their individual conditions.
What are the barriers?
Jean Hailes for Women’s Health is a national not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving women’s health across Australia through every life stage. Founded in 1992, the organisation uses four pillars to define its work. These are public health and education, research, policy and clinical services.
One of these pillars includes research into women’s health and concerns women have in this area. In 2019, Jean Hailes conducted their fifth annual National Women’s Health Survey for women aged 18 years and older in Australia.
9999 women gave valid responses to the survey and answered questions regarding general health, mental health and reproductive health. More than one in three respondents reported having had depression and anxiety. Those aged 36 to 50 reported the highest instances of these conditions (44.1%), followed by women aged 18 to 35, (43.2%).
According to the findings, these were some of the most common barriers women faced when accessing healthcare:
Of the 9999 women who participated, 16.1% couldn’t afford to see a health professional when they needed one. The group of women aged 18 to 35 found it hardest to afford to visit a health professional (20%).
According to the Jean Hailes study, financial resources can either help or hinder your chances of accessing healthcare.
“Women who stated that they were ‘living comfortably’ almost universally also stated that they can afford to see a health professional when they need to. Only 63% of respondents who stated that they are ‘just getting by’ could afford to see a health professional when needed and 20% of respondents who are ‘finding it very difficult’ to manage financially could afford to see a health professional.”
Discrimination was also a common barrier for many women. According to the National Women’s Health Survey, 16% of women surveyed felt they had experienced discrimination when accessing healthcare.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women reported to experience discrimination in this field more than double than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women — 35.1% and 15.5% respectively.
45.7% of women who identified as disabled felt discriminated against in accessing health, compared to 12.3% of women who don’t identify as disabled — that’s more than three times!
Taking the time to access a health professional was also reported to be a barrier. The survey didn’t pinpoint exactly why time was a factor — possible reasons could include being unable to take time off work, or being unable to access childcare in order to attend appointments alone — but 38.5% of women aged 36 to 50 reported as not having enough time in their day to attend health check appointments. For women aged 18 to 35, this stood at 36.2%.
While the results come from a relatively small study of women, it does provide great insight into what is affecting the community when it comes to mental health and highlights where improvements need to be made.
Who can improve access to healthcare?
Dismantling these barriers to mental health care is a tricky one and many improvements need to be made by the government to increase access. According to the Australian Government Department of Health, they are currently undertaking the following steps to improve mental health services around the country:
- Developing policies and plans to guide government action on mental health issues
- Funding initiatives, programs and services that help people experiencing mental illness
- Reviewing programs and services, and consulting relevant stakeholders when deciding how to improve them
- Funding research into mental health issues to develop new approaches to prevention, diagnosis, treatment and recovery
Where to find help
There are a number of organisations and services who provide treatment and support in the area of mental health.
The first step in accessing treatment services for mental health conditions usually starts with a visit to the local GP. Doctors can provide a Mental Health Treatment Plan, which details treatment options and services available. They are also able to provide referrals to specialist health professionals, like a psychologist.
According to Services Australia, the Treatment Plan enables people to claim up to 10 sessions each calendar year with a mental health professional. After these sessions are claimed, health professionals can also offer an extra 10 group sessions, depending on eligibility. Generally, Medicare can only cover some of the cost of these 10 sessions.
Other helpful organisations who specialise in the field of mental health education, support and treatment are as follows:
Emergency services: If your and anyone’s life is in immediate danger, call 000.
Lifeline: Contact Lifeline on 131 114 if you’re or anyone you know is in crisis. You can call them 24 hours a day, seven days a week from anywhere in Australia.
Black Dog Institute: Founded in 2002, the Black Dog Institute is a not-for-profit facility for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. Black Dog doesn’t deal in emergency crisis support, so contact 000 or Lifeline depending on your situation.
Beyond Blue: Founded in 2000, Beyond Blue is an independent, not-for-profit organisation supported by the Federal Government and every State and Territory Government in Australia.
What can you do?
If you as an individual want to help improve the quality of mental health services in Australia, consider donating to organisations like Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute and Lifeline. These organisations are helping women and men every day and are constantly doing research into mental health, in order to find new ways to diagnose, treat and even prevent mental illness.