Hidden cost in welcome investments in mental health

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) welcomes the Gillard Government's new investments in mental health in the Federal Budget but is concerned that crucial funds are being redirected from the Better Access initiative, the most successful mental health program in the last 30 years.

A recent government evaluation of the Better Access initiative showed how effective it is and determined that it was good value for money. But Professor Lyn Littlefield, Executive Director of the APS, said that government plans to reduce the number of sessions of psychological treatment available will impact upon its effectiveness for the people who most need it. This will do nothing to improve mental health service delivery, only the Budget's bottom line, she said.

Professor Littlefield said: "The evaluation of the Better Access initiative showed that increasing access to evidence-based psychological interventions reduced the impact of mental illness in a highly cost-effective way. This program is widely used by Australians with moderate to severe mental disorders, and reducing the number of sessions available for treatment will decrease the quality of overall service provision. It is a decision that needs to be reviewed."

Increased investment in services to better support people with severe and persistent mental illness through improved coordination of social and clinical services is urgently needed and the government's moves in this area are very timely, Professor Littlefield said. Additional funding for the Personal Helpers and Mentors Program and Family Mental Health Support services are also welcome due to the high demand for these programs.

The APS also supports the government's approach of tackling major gaps in the current mental health service system by expanding the Access to Allied Psychological Therapy Services (ATAPS) to increase access to psychological therapies for people living in rural areas, Indigenous people and those who live in lower socio-economic areas.

Professor Littlefield said: "The APS welcomes the government's increased investment in children's mental health service delivery, as this is an area that has long been ignored and enhances the government's other investments in early intervention through the headspace and early psychosis initiatives. Such investments in early intervention are to be applauded."

"The establishment of a National Partnership Agreement with a flexible funding pool is an innovative approach to encourage state and territory governments to invest more in mental health that we hope will be embraced by those governments", she said.

Professor Littlefield said: "Overall the government has made significant and well-targeted investment in mental health that will benefit many Australians with mental illness, particularly those with severe mental illness. But the changes to the Better Access initiative are not warranted and threaten the effectiveness of a highly successful program with proven results in order to save a small amount of funding."

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The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 20,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples' lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.