Psychologists in demand but access still a major concern, says APS

  • 1.18 million Australians accessed psychological services through Medicare in 2016-17
  • There has been a 41 per cent increase in the number of clients seen by psychologists through Medicare since 2012-13
  • Australians attended a total of 4.7 million psychology sessions in 2016-17
  • An estimated 45 per cent of all Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, yet more than half will not access treatment

Australians are seeing psychologists in record numbers according to Australia’s peak psychology body, the Australian Psychological Society (APS).

The APS says that personal sessions, group therapies and tele-health consultations with a registered psychologist were all on the rise, jumping as much as 40 per cent according to recent national Government data.

APS CEO Ms Frances Mirabelli said Australia was finally catching up with the rest of world in terms of using psychological therapy services.

“Although we still have a long way to go, what we are seeing is a positive and seismic shift in the way people view and use psychologists and psychology,” Ms Mirabelli said.

“People are becoming more aware of psychology as a model for improving normal lives, making people happier and healthier in an increasingly complicated world. This is a sign of a good national health outcome.

“As psychological health awareness surges, and as governments and campaigners push to make mental health just as important as physical health, the stigma associated with seeing a psychologist is also starting to subside,” Ms Mirabelli said.

The health of psychological services – by the numbers:

  • In 2016-17, 1.18 million Australians accessed psychological services through the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS), representing a 41 per cent increase in the number of clients seen by psychologists since 2012-13. This figure does not include use of private psychological services delivered outside of the MBS.

Figure 1 – Total number of patients

  • Australians attended a total of 4.7 million psychology sessions in 2016-17, up by X per cent on 2015-16. Currently, Medicare rebates are available for up to 10 individual mental health services in a calendar year. Analysis of MBS data indicates that on average, clients attended approximately four mental health services in a calendar year.
  • The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that 1.3 million Mental Health plans were written by GPs, with a take up of 1.2 million, or approximately 92 per cent.
  • There is an estimated 19,820 public psychological service providers across Australia. There are many more private psychological service providers.
  • Australian life insurers report that they pay out more total and permanent disability (TPD) claims caused by mental health conditions than for any other cause – approximately $337m accounting for 24.1 per cent of all TPD claims.
  • In 2019, APS’s membership sits at 24,000 registered psychologists. APS membership has increased year-on-year by an average of 3.3% per cent, since 2010.

Psychologists in demand but access still a major concern, says APS (cont.)

Yet despite the hike in demand for psychological services, Ms Mirabelli said there were still many Australians unable, or unwilling, to access these services.

“An estimated 45 per cent of all Australians experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, yet more than half will not access treatment.

“Many more Australians are not seeking the help of psychologist because of the stigma attached, the affordability of services, limited tele-health and interpreter services, and lack of support in regional, rural and remote communities.

“The psychological needs of this ‘missing middle’ in our community must be addressed,” she said.

In The Future of Psychology in Australia, released in June this year, the APS called on the National Government to extend the 10 psychological therapy sessions offered through Medicare per year, to 20 sessions for ‘low intensity’ disorders and up to 40 sessions for ‘high intensity’ disorders.

“What we are asking the Government to do is strengthen and improve psychological services offered through Medicare to address increasing service gaps, ensure the highest and best use of psychology and psychologists within our community, and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the mental health care system,” Ms Mirabelli said.

“While preventative services are helping the most ‘at risk’ in our community, and acute services address and care for the most unwell, the psychological health needs of the ‘missing middle’ are not being met.

“Vulnerable groups, including those living outside our cities and children and people with a mental health disorder or episode, all risk a decline in their mental health due to reduced options for treatment outside of acute and specialist care. Our analysis suggests that provision of psychological services per capita is 40 per cent lower in rural areas as compared to major cities. This gap can and must be closed.

“We’ve all got more work to do to address the gap and the barriers to seeking care,” Ms Mirabelli said.

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