All Australians need Better Access to mental health services

Media release - Tuesday 3 March 2015

Responding to a new study on mental health service usage under Medicare published in the MJA, the Australian Psychological Society today said the findings show the Better Access initiative is working and needs to be expanded so that all Australians can access mental health treatment offered by psychologists.

“Millions of Australians have been successfully treated under Medicare for common mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, thanks to Better Access. The value it plays in opening up access to treatment and in de-stigmatising mental illness cannot be underestimated,” said Professor Lyn Littlefield, Executive Director of the Australian Psychological Society.

Better Access services are primarily delivered by psychologists, who are skilled at providing evidence-based psychological interventions for common mental health disorders. “The 30,000-strong psychology workforce helps Australians from all walks of life effectively manage these common mental health disorders that will affect 45% of Australians in their lifetimes. The cost-effective and successful Better Access initiative is critical in helping them lead more productive and meaningful lives.

“Unfortunately unequal distribution of services, unequal access and unmet need exist across the health system, for physical and mental illnesses alike. The solution is more and better-targeted resources where they are needed rather than cutting services that are in high demand in all parts of Australia.

“The study’s findings show that rates of psychological treatment have grown in all areas under Better Access. Previously only a third of Australians accessed mental health treatment, but Better Access has significantly improved this. We need to continue this trend, so that more Australians, especially in rural, regional and disadvantaged areas, can access the mental health services they need and that psychologists provide.

“Offering psychologists higher rebates for providing mental health services to people in particular postcodes, relocation costs and other incentives such as those used to encourage wider distribution of medical services, would be a practical way to improve mental health services in these areas.

“The APS is calling on the Government to release the National Mental Health Commission’s report of the review of mental health services to start an informed and consultative debate on improving access to psychological services for all Australians.

“The Government’s review is an opportunity to build on the success of Better Access, which is viewed with envy by mental health care providers overseas,” said Professor Littlefield.

SUCCESSES OF THE BETTER ACCESS INITIATIVE, A LANDMARK MENTAL HEALTH REFORM:

• Better Access has provided accessible Medicare-rebated psychological treatment for millions of Australians with common mental health disorders.

• Better Access has significantly increased treatment rates for mental disorders in Australia since it was introduced in 2006.

• Better Access has been critical in helping de-stigmatise help-seeking for mental health disorders through Medicare-funded service provision.

• Better Access has enabled effective treatment of mental health disorders through access to evidence-based psychological interventions.

• Better Access has demonstrated cost-efficiency for mental health service delivery through the Medicare system.

BACKGROUND

• The Better Access initiative was introduced in 2006 by the Howard Government to enhance community access to psychological treatment for common mental health disorders, primarily those associated with depression and anxiety.

• These mental health disorders are a leading cause of disease burden in Australia and will be experienced by 45% of Australians in their lifetime according to the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (Department of Health and Ageing, 2009).

• Previously, only one third of Australians with common mental health disorders accessed treatment, but the Better Access initiative has significantly increased treatment rates by enabling funded access to effective psychological treatment under Australia’s Medicare system since 2006 (Whiteford et al., 2014).

• 50% of Australians with common mental disorders are still not accessing the treatment they need, so it is vital that the successes Better Access has result in are protected and expanded.