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AM – Monday, 4 May , 2009 08:18:00

TONY EASTLEY: New figures show that the global financial crisis has coincided with a large increase in more Australians seeking mental health services.

The Mental Health Council has analysed Medicare figures and found a 40 per cent increase in the number of Medicare claims for mental health consultations in the past two months.

The council says the jump is alarming.

Jennifer Macey reports.

JENNIFER MACEY: In an effort to improve access to mental health care services, the Howard government introduced a Medicare rebate for visits to psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and therapists.

But in the past few months there’s been a massive increase in people claiming this rebate for mental health care services.

David Crosbie is the CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia.

DAVID CROSBIE: So we know that the number of people getting a mental health plan from their GP has gone up by about 42 per cent.

We know the number of people getting clinical psychology services, has gone from about 54,000 in March ’08, to 83,000 in March ’09.

So it’s really a massive increase.

JENNIFER MACEY: He says mental health professionals expected an initial surge in people getting treatment once the rebate was initially introduced.

But he says he’s been surprised by the recent jump in the figures.

DAVID CROSBIE: I think it’s alarming in that so many Australians feel the need to have a mental health care plan, and so many are seeking psychological therapy.

We thought that would plateau, the number of people who would be using these services, but it’s clearly increasing quite significantly. In fact, quicker than it ever has before.

In some ways that may reflect that we’ve had a lot of unmet demand, and it’s a good thing that people are actually getting the help they need.

At another level it may reflect that the kind of broader psychological stress on people that comes from that feeling that we’re in crisis all the time is having an impact, and particularly when you marry that with higher levels of unemployment.

JENNIFER MACEY: The Mental Health Council has produced these figures after analysing Medicare rebate numbers.

It’s not certain whether the global financial crisis is the main reason behind the increase. The actual breakdown of the gender or age group of those people seeking mental health care services has not yet been released.

Professor Ian Hickie from the Brain and Mind Institute in Sydney says he’s heard of anecdotal evidence that people are worried about their jobs or other financial pressures.

IAN HICKIE: We’ve seen a lot of reports from young people, who we particularly access, about worries, about employment, difficulties getting casual work, difficulties paying their bills.

And certainly for those who are somewhat older, particularly the men that we see, concerns about whether they’ll be able to hang on onto their jobs, the financial pressure they’re under.

So it’s a topic that seems to be accounting for more people coming forward for services, and certainly top of their list of things that they are now worrying about.

JENNIFER MACEY: And he says many people who need the services the most might be falling through the cracks.

He says particularly men, and younger men may not be going to their GPs with mental health problems.

IAN HICKIE: Now we’ve been very lucky in Australia over the last decade that there’s been a 30 per cent fall in suicide altogether, up until about 2006, and a 46 per cent fall in youth suicide during that period, when we had very strong economic growth and very low rates of unemployment.

Now that essentially stopped about 18 months ago, best we can tell from the figures, and we’re now concerned that if the economic situation gets worse, you’re likely to see a rise in suicide figures.

Because that’s pretty much the history of these things in Australia and in other developed countries.
TONY EASTLEY: Professor Ian Hickey from the Brain and Mind Institute, ending that report by Jennifer Macey.

One Comment

  1. the poor people usually has biggest mental problems. It’s related with economical problems.

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