Cuts to Medicare-funded mental health services from November 1 will leave many people without support or treatment for two months and over the difficult Christmas period, according to rural mental health service advocates.
Under the Better Access initiative, GPs can help people experiencing mental illness to access Medicare rebates from sessions with a psychologist.
Better Access is available in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, Northern Territory, the ACT and Tasmania.
However, funding cuts to the program have reduced the number of subsidised sessions from 18 to 10 per year, affecting a reported 87,000 people.
Government policy means that those affected by the Better Access Medicare rebate cuts are not able to access Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) this year.
Rural psychologist, Karyn Hackney, who has the difficult task of informing her patients about the cuts, is concerned.
“This is a dire situation for people in my disadvantaged rural area,” she said.
“Many are not eligible for State mental health services, there are no local headspace services for my community and for many there will be no mental health service options other than crisis presentation to the local hospital.”
“Even GP services can be a 2 to 3 week wait here and there are very real concerns that rural Australia will see an increase in suicide incidence in the absence of appropriate treatment and support services.”
Contact your local GP or Australian Psychological Society (APS) member for comment on how these cuts will affect your community this holiday season.
Rural mental health advocate Alison Fairleigh, says it’s a double blow for people in rural Australia.
“While the Minister for Mental Health, The Hon Mark Butler MP, insists they are tackling the problem of rural mental health with its e-health initiatives, the new budget has in fact cut funding from other rural mental health services to pay for it,” she said.
“With access to effective, face-to-face, community-based mental health care having been rolled-back further with cuts to Better Access; it is a desperate situation on the ground in many rural and remote areas.”