Psychologists can fill mental health gap now

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Australia already has at least 10,000 psychologists who could fill the gap in mental health services recognised at last Friday’s COAG meeting, according to the Australian Psychological Society President, Amanda Gordon.Gordon said that strategies such as more training places for medical students or extra training for nurses may eventually help to meet the need, but Australia’s existing psychologists are available now.

‘The problem facing someone with a mental illness is that of getting access to a psychologist in either the public or private sector,’ Gordon said. ‘State governments have been making it harder for people to see a psychologist in their health services by converting psychologists’ positions to general mental health worker positions. In the process, they offer psychologists little by way of a career path so, not surprisingly, many leave the public sector for private practice.’

‘The high prevalence mental illnesses are anxiety and depression, affecting far more people than illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. People with these serious mental illnesses certainly need better treatment and support than they have been receiving, but that has left little of the inadequate resources to help the far greater number of people with anxiety or depression, both of which are typically quite serious,’ Gordon said.

‘These problems are often associated with other problems, including substance abuse, which was highlighted at the COAG meeting. So a typical case is complicated and not suitable for treatment by a briefly trained mental health worker. We already have a highly trained mental health workforce in our psychologists that could be better utilised right now.’

‘People who want to see a psychologist in private practice face the financial barriers of almost no support through Medicare and minimal support from health funds. Consulting a private psychologist has been made into a luxury by the policies of the federal government and the health funds. Many troubled people just can’t afford it and have little chance of getting to a public sector psychologist instead. They just suffer.’

We need to see the welcome initiatives taken at COAG translated now into concrete plans to give troubled Australians better access to psychologists in both the public and private sector, concluded Gordon, because that part of the answer to our mental health service problem is available now.

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For more information contact:

Elaine Grant
Communications Manager
Australian Psychological Society
03 8662 3363
0412 683 068
www.psychology.org.au