Perth, Australia: Over a thousand consumers, psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists are rallying together to fight against changes to mental health care announced in this month’s Commonwealth Budget. The Government's planned changes to the 'Better Access to Mental Health Care' program contain details in the fine-print that will reduce access to mental health professionals by half. These tough new restrictions to access mean that psychological services will now fall short of basic guidelines for minimal treatment.  

In April 2011, a review of the 'Better Access' initiative was released by the Government, indicating that psychological services provided in this program reach people with moderate to severe mental health disorders and deliver cost-effective treatment for people who would otherwise be unable to access support. In a recent statement, the Australian Psychological Society described the 'Better Access' initiative as "the most successful mental health program in the last 30 years." Under previous arrangements, patients referred by a GP could receive up to 18 sessions of psychological services.

The Labor government proposal to restrict access to 10 sessions has caused alarm across all of the mental health professions and has distressed many consumers. Mr Ben Mullings, the campaign's co-ordinator, says "Psychologists like myself are being asked to deliver evidence-based treatment, but are not being given enough sessions with the client to carry out even the most basic forms of intervention. Research has repeatedly shown that 15-20 sessions of  treatment is needed for common psychological conditions, like depression and anxiety. Just last year Australian research showed that around half the people accessing this program will need more care after 10 sessions. These cuts ignore the research and will set many people up for failure. Cutting psychological services in half is like seeing a GP and only getting a half a dose of antibiotics; or going to an optometrists and only getting one eye looked at. It's a ridiculous proposal."

The campaigners have organised an online petition that has collected over 1000 signatures in just 3 days, as well as a Facebook group and a campaign proposal with over 2000 votes on the website GetUp! Mental health consumers have joined forces with professionals in a letter writing campaign, asking the Federal Minister for Mental Health, Mark Butler, to reverse this decision and leave the current upper limit in place at 18 sessions.

Mental health consumers have hit back against these changes, expressing a sentiment of feeling deceived by these cuts to services after the recent Government announcements of new investment in mental health care. Consumers have stated that these tough new restrictions will make life harder for those who are most in need of psychological care.

A former mental health consumer Sonia Neale states, “these services have kept me out of hospital and able to continue my career – seeing a psychologist for 18 sessions is much cheaper than a psychiatric hospital stay.” Mr Ben Mullings added, "The Labor Government has led the public to believe that mental health is as much a priority as physical health. We are asking voters to demand that the Minister honour the Government’s promise by reinstating the pre-Budget session limits. Let mental health professionals do their job properly.”  

He went on to say, “We all appreciate new investment in mental health care, but taking away access to psychological services in a program that has been shown to be effective is really not the answer. These restrictive changes make a mockery of the name and the whole intention of the 'Better Access' program."

For more information or to interview Ben Mullings or others associated with this campaign, please contact: Ben Mullings C/O Health@520 0431870401