Mental health needs lost in sideshow debate

13 January 2023

Professor Patrick McGorry, the executive director of Orygen, the Centre for Youth Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, has described the debate over the decision by federal Health Minister Mark Butler to discontinue the 10 extra Medicare-subsidised psychological therapy sessions under the Better Access initiative as 'a sideshow and yet another symptom of more fundamental underfunding and structural weaknesses in mental health care'.

In an opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald Professor Patrick McGorry highlighted the contours of the mental health emergency that Australia faces: a 25 per cent surge in anxiety and depression following the pandemic – coupled with the 50 per cent surge in mental illness in young people since 2007.

Prof. McGorry said primary care initiatives such as Better Access and headspace had improved access to mental healthcare for people with mild to moderate conditions. But the 10 extra Medicare-subsidised sessions introduced during the Covid lockdown period had exacerbated the problem of blocked access to those mental health professionals who are eligible for Medicare rebates.

Prof. McGorry said the debate had served to highlight the unmet needs of those with persistent conditions for whom the primary care system is a pathway to specialised care.

Prof. McGorry wrote that ‘[Australia] currently spends about $11 billion a year to cover 5 million Australians with mental ill-health. For perspective, [Australia] spends about $30 billion a year through the National Disability Insurance Scheme on 500,000 Australians with disability.’ 

Read the opinion piece here.