Leading mental health academic Professor Anthony Jorm at the Centre for Mental Health at the University of Melbourne has spoken to SMH about the limit of mental health sessions individuals can access via Medicare, saying it’s insufficient.
Dr. Jorm has based his argument on an article he published last year in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, which cited National Health Survey figures that showed while psychologist visits were on the rise, there had been little improvement in the rate of high or very high psychological distress over the same time period. The suicide rate also did not lessen.
Dr Jorn noted most people saw a psychologist for six visits (the limit of visits before having to review your mental health plan with a GP) or 10 (the maximum number of subsidised sessions per year).
He told SMH that the research evidence suggests treatments like cognitive behaviour therapy or interpersonal psychotherapy, both commonly used for mental health issues, require at least 16 to 20 sessions to actually work.
“If you’re going to do it at all, it needs to be done properly. Just like we had to educate people to finish a course of antibiotics, people need to know that you need quite a lot of psychological treatment to get the effects and two or three visits aren’t going to do anything for you.”
Currently the federal government is reviewing the Medicare Benefits Schedule for mental health treatment, and the interim taskforce report has suggested keeping 10 sessions as the maximum, but allowing for them to be put into one referral, so you don’t need to go back to your GP after 6 sessions for a review.
The final recommendations from the taskforce will be delivered later this year.
As someone who has needed to visit psychologists for most of my adult life, I can confidently say when your mental health is very impaired, you absolutely need more than 10 sessions a year in order to make progress. Hopefully we see some strong changes around the Medicare Benefits Schedule when it comes to mental health.