Victorians deserve expert, evidence-based mental health support, says peak body for psychologists

Victorians deserve expert, evidence-based mental health support, says peak body for psychologists

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has welcomed the final report of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System and congratulates the Victorian Government’s leadership in generational mental health reform.

APS CEO Dr Zena Burgess said while it is clear the system is broken, the Victorian Government’s commitment to implement all 65 recommendations signals that there there’s firm hope for change.

“The report is a sobering look at the state of Victoria’s mental health system,” said Dr Burgess.

“But it is also brimming with possibility for genuine and transformational change. The APS is buoyed by the Victorian Government’s acknowledgment and commitment to creating a kinder, more effective and more robust mental health system.”

The APS is very pleased the report highlights the central role of psychologists in the support and treatment of people living with mental illness and the structural failings of a system operating in crisis mode.

“Fundamentally, you can’t have a mental health system without psychologists working at their best, at multiple touch points in the system,” said Dr Burgess.

“Across Victoria, the demand for mental health support far exceeds supply. Just over one per cent of the population receives support yet more than three per cent of Victorians experience a severe mental illness.”

“It is clear from the lived experience of Victorians that there is a need for appropriate, specialised and affordable care.”

The APS made 29 recommendations to the Commission, making a case for evidence-based psychological treatment at the forefront of care, and has highlighted key areas for reform, including:

  • Early intervention evidence-based psychological treatment with an emphasis on illness prevention
  • Better access for regional, remote and rural Victorians and high-needs community groups, and
  • Bolstering the capacity of the public sector and community level support.

Dr Burgess said “Around 50 percent of adult mental illness begins before 14 years of age. We need to intervene early in the system, and it needs to be a priority.

“By employing one school psychologist for every 500 students, the Victorian Government could deliver widespread, cost effective prevention programs to improve the early identification and treatment of children and adolescents with mental health conditions.”

“This allows children and young people to be seen by the school psychologist before they obtain a mental health diagnosis, which is currently required under the Medicare system.”

Dr Burgess also said “regional, rural and remote Victorians face significant barriers in accessing mental health support. There needs to be more incentivisation, training and retention of psychologists outside of our cities.”

The report also stressed that the future of the mental health and wellbeing system will be built around a community-based model of care, where people will access treatment, care and support close to their homes and in their communities.

Dr Burgess said skilled public sector psychologists and evidence-based interventions should be at the heart of this.

“The Victorian Government should prioritise evidence-based psychological treatments that are first line, cost-effective, and person-centered in their approach. Psychologists are skilled in crisis management and problem solving, and they deliver safe, prompt, evidence-based interventions across the public sector and in community based care.”

While the Royal Commission’s scope of reference focused on the Victorian system, Dr Burgess said there were undeniably lessons to be learnt at a Federal level.

“The recent Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health addressed the need for State, Territory and Federal governments to work together. Many of the systemic issues outlined by the Commission today are undeniably felt by Australians in all parts of Australia,” said Dr Burgess.

“We urge all governments to review these recommendations closely, particularly at a Federal level.”

The APS looks forward to working closely with the Victorian Government on implementing the Commission’s recommendations.

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