New research from a peak psychology body has shown that psychologists believe cost is the main barrier to accessing mental health services, followed by long waiting lists and a shortage of psychologists.
The survey of almost 1000 psychologists in private practice, conducted by the Australian Association of Psychologists (AAPi), also revealed that more than a third of psychologists cannot take on new clients, with 61% reporting an increase in distress, anxiety and depression in the past year.
Other key issues emerging from the research were: low rebates, the cost of living crisis, the impacts of the two-tier rebate system, and the need for 20 Better Access sessions.
95% of respondents believe the Federal Government should retain the additional 10 Better Access Medicare sessions offered during the pandemic – rather than reverting to only 10 in 2023.
Early access to psychologists remains a concern, with 52.84% of clients on waiting lists longer than 4-6 weeks and 27% waiting longer than two months.
When it came to bulk billing, 49% of psychologists said they could not afford to bulk bill, compared with 37% last year. For those who do bulk billing, the majority bulk bill less than 25% of their clients.
The survey showed that standard consultation fees had increased dramatically due to the cost of providing services, with consults under $100 decreasing by 40%; and consults in the $201-225 range increasing by 57%.
AAPi Executive Director Tegan Carrison said the average standard consult fee in 2022 was $176 – $200 yet the current rebate for most clients of registered psychologists was $89.65 – half of the average consult fee.
“The current Medicare rebate is woefully inadequate, leaving vulnerable clients simply unable to afford care,” she said.
“As the cost of living increases in general, the ability of clients to access mental health care diminishes.
“And the two-tier rebate, with clients of registered psychologists receiving $89, while clients of clinical psychologists getting a $130 rebate for exactly the same kind of service – continues to hurt thousands of people needing mental health support,” Carrison said.
Conducted in the first fortnight in November, the survey also showed the following:
Carrison said AAPi was concerned about the well-being of the psychology workforce, with 38% of respondents reporting a worsening of their own mental health compared with last year.
“The demands on the mental health system and on those who provide the care continue to be overwhelming,” she said
“The reality is we need significant reforms urgently and realistic investment into all mental health services to ensure our community stays well. An investment in mental health is an investment into a healthy economy.
“Psychologists deserve to be better recognised for the valuable expertise and care they provide to a nation whose mental health is collectively in crisis.”
Media release from Pure Public Relations. Note: Content has been edited for style and length.