People with serious mental health disorders will be left without appropriate mental health care under Budget cuts to the Better Access to Mental Health Care initiative, according to new research released by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) this week. The proposed cuts would have translated to a reduction in effective treatment for more than 260,000 Australians who received psychological services in the first three years of the Better Access initiative.
In a Budget cost-saving measure – ironically to fund the Government’s new commitment to mental health – the number of sessions of psychological treatment a person with a mental health disorder can receive each year will be cut from a maximum of 18 down to 10 (not from 12 to 10 as was widely reported). The removal of these eight sessions will have a dramatic impact on people with severe mental health problems, who will be denied effective treatment according to the APS Executive Director, Professor Lyn Littlefield.
Since the Government announced the Budget cuts, the APS has undertaken a study of the nature and severity of disorders of the Better Access consumers who will actually be affected by these cuts. The APS research, conducted on a large sample of 9,900 people who received between 11 and 18 sessions of treatment from psychologists under the program last year, shows that these are overwhelmingly people with severe depression or anxiety disorders, including posttraumatic stress disorder.
The study demonstrates that 84% of these people had a moderate to severe, or severe, disorder at the commencement of treatment, with nearly half (43%) having additional complexities such as a second mental health disorder, personality disorder or drug and alcohol abuse.
"Of course, these people required more than 10 sessions of psychological treatment to achieve an effective outcome," said Professor Littlefield. "The research shows that by the end of their treatment only 3% remained severely affected, while for 43% of people their disorders were effectively reduced to either no symptoms or only a mild presentation. How can it be seen as a saving to cut funding for these people who are clearly receiving effective psychological treatment under the Better Access program?"
She said she hoped this new information would change the Government's mind and it would restore the number of sessions of psychological treatment available, as its proposed alternatives were unlikely to meet the needs of these people.
The Government has stated that people with serious mental health disorders who need more than 10 sessions of treatment should receive services through the specialised public mental health system or private psychiatrists, but the APS study shows that 81% of Better Access consumers had common mental health disorders involving depression and anxiety, the very disorders Better Access was designed to treat.
“These people don’t necessarily need team-based care nor may they want to access treatment through psychiatric services,” said Professor Littlefield. "We also know that it's not possible to get into public mental health services with these commonly seen problems that are usually managed by GPs, and other mental health programs such as those run through the Divisions of General Practice (i.e., Access to Allied Psychological Services [ATAPS]) cannot accommodate all these people nor are they necessarily equipped with the experienced psychologists to treat them. The costs of these other sources of treatment are much greater, as is treatment by private psychiatrists who are also very difficult to access. This proposal is completely unrealistic."
"With the resounding evidence from the representative APS study of nearly 10,000 Better Access consumers it is now clear that the Budget cuts are misguided," said Professor Littlefield. "I call on the Government to reverse its decision and enable those many thousands of Australians with serious yet all too common mental health disorders to continue to access the appropriate length of effective and cost-effective psychological treatment under the highly successful Better Access initiative."
For more information on the cuts to the Better Access initiative, details of the APS study and arguments against the Government’s recommendations for people affected by the Better Access funding cuts, please refer to the APS Briefing Paper .
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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.