Warning: This article deals with the topics of anxiety, self-harm, and eating disorders and may be triggering for some readers.
Like many Aussies, I was vacuum sealed to the bottom of a big black pit of tar during the COVID pandemic. Hope was elusive. I depression starfished on the couch day after day after day. I lost jobs and money. At the time, it really felt like the worst of it would never end.
However, in 2020, the Federal Government threw me a rope to hold on to. As a part of its Better Access initiative, the number of Medicare-covered psychology sessions bumped up from 10 to 20.
During this tough-as-nails time, having some extra chats with my psychologist really helped me crawl out of that tar pit. These talks gave me routine, someone to vent to, and some survival techniques. If I didn’t have access to a psyche during 2020 and 2021, I’m petrified that I would have seriously hurt myself.
Having said that, the pain of the pandemic still lingers. I also have an anxiety disorder. These two components sometimes mix and make life super difficult. I still go to therapy. It’s still an invaluable resource.
As of next year, the Federal Government is cutting the amount of Medicare psychology sessions from 20 back down to 10. For someone who will probs go to a psyche more than 20 times next year, this news is rather scary. It means that, in order to get the adequate mental health support I need, my budget might need to radically change.
The sad thing is that I can afford to pay for an additional 10 sessions during a time when food, rent, and electricity are super expensive resources. Others won’t be so lucky. As of now, the Federal Government doesn’t have a plan in place to help such people.
What Are the Experts Saying?
Now, if a lot of mental health experts were chill with these Better Access cuts, I’d have been less likely to open my trap. However, a plethora of these experts have instead lamented the government’s switcheroo.
As the Australian Psychological Society (APS) said in a statement, “News that the additional ten Medicare sessions will not be extended beyond December 31, 2022, is concerning for our patients and for psychologists trying to provide continuity of care.”
“We have been advocating relentlessly on this issue for many years. Long before the pandemic, the APS has been urging the Government to increase the number of sessions from 10 to at least 20.”
Meanwhile, David John Hallford, a Clinical Psychologist at Deakin University, said, “10 sessions won’t provide adequate treatment for many suffering from mental ill-health. And waiting until the next calendar year for the next ten sessions could see symptoms spiral in the meantime.”
“The government has recognised this issue in the context of eating disorders, for which people may currently access up to 40 sessions of psychological treatment per calendar year by meeting specific criteria. This is to be commended, and a step in the right direction. But it’s unclear why the same isn’t available for other significant mental illnesses.”
What’s the Government’s Defense?
It’s worth noting that the Federal Government didn’t axe our Medicare psychology sessions without doing any research. In fact, they commissioned an independent report into the Better Access initiative.
This report stated that while the scheme improved Australia’s access to mental health services, said access wasn’t equal. So, instead of tweaking the current system, they’ve decided to shut it down and launch something new in 2023.
The Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, said, “The findings of the Better Access evaluation have provided us with an opportunity to address a variety of concerns so all Australians, no matter where they live or what their circumstances, can get the mental health care and support they need.”
Nevertheless, the likes of the Independent Senator David Pocock have slammed this call.
As Pocock said, “We are still in the midst of a mental health crisis, now is not the time to be removing funding without a solid plan to address the significant issues with our mental health system.”
“I acknowledge the research from the Government that shows the 20 sessions aren’t working to close the access gap and may actually be preventing new patients from entering the system. However, that same evaluation also recommended that the funding for the 10 additional sessions continue to be made available for those with complex mental health needs.”
“At the moment, the government has not made a firm commitment to either continue to make those sessions available or reinvest that funding into other modes of care for people with complex needs.”
What Can Be Down About This Issue?
If you believe that the number of Medicare psychology sessions is now insufficient, then there’s an A+ petition that you should sign. And here’s a handy-dandy link for you right here.
Additionally, make some noise about these cuts. Don’t let the government’s decision go quietly into the good night. After all, it’s not too late for them to do a 180.
If this article brings up any issues for you or anyone you know, or you think you may be experiencing depression or need support with your mental health, please contact your GP or in Australia, contact Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636), all of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7.
If this article brings up any issues for you or anyone you know or you need help and support for eating disorders, please contact the Butterfly Foundation National Support Line and online service 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected].