Mental health system under strain: report

Medicare subsidised psychology appointments have been cut from 20 to 10 visits a year.

Medicare subsidised psychology appointments have been cut from 20 to 10 visits a year. Photo: AAP

Natural disasters and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in an “unsustainable strain” on Australia’s mental health system.

Bulk billing incentives for mental health practitioners to make services more affordable and more psychologists in schools are needed to address the crisis, a parliamentary inquiry into mental health and suicide prevention found.

The committee’s report proposes the government take a big-picture approach to reforming the system and focus on early intervention, with most mental health issues arising before the age of 14.

Better access to professionals, the expansion of digital services, funding for clinical placements in regional and rural Australia, and more training for general practitioners to help mental health presentations were flagged in the report.

The recommendations also call for a permanent committee into mental health, suicide prevention and social and emotional wellbeing and for the Commonwealth deputy chief medical officer for mental health to provide advice at all crisis meetings.

Committee chair Dr Fiona Martin, a registered psychologist, said the need for reform was urgent given what Australians had suffered through over the past two years.

“These (disasters) have created an unprecedented demand for services that has brought the sector to a tipping point … (and) a critical crossroads,” the Liberal MP said.

“The committee’s recommendations are an opportunity to decisively and comprehensively address both the fundamental shortfalls of the sector and this new crisis.”

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