For young Australians, struggles with mental health conditions is a growing issue. However, the lack of accessibility and high cost of therapy makes these struggles worse.
According to Beyond Blue, one in seven young Australians experience a mental health condition. Over 75% of mental health problems occur before the age of 25 and young people are less likely than any other age group to seek professional help.
Curtis moved from his hometown of Byron Bay to Sydney to study, however, he made the difficult decision to put his dreams of becoming a filmmaker on hold when his anxiety became too overwhelming to handle.
Curtis told ABC, “I moved to Sydney to study a film course at university and I couldn’t function there, my anxiety was so bad. I was so stressed out, not necessarily from the workload, it was more just me being in a new surrounding – it was very overwhelming.”
Once Curtis returned home he started seeing a psychologist which positively helped with his anxiety. Although he was seeing empowered with the positive coping mechanisms provided by the psychologist, he was faced with a new problem: the cost.
Curtis was put on a mental health plan which provides 10 sessions with a partial Medicare rebate. However, that is only a rebate; the psychologist sessions still left Curtis significantly out of pocket.
“Even with a rebate it can still add up to be over $100 if you’re seeing someone twice a week, as I was, to really get on top of my anxiety,” Curtis said.
Curtis discovered a number of other young people struggling with mental health issues and were finding it difficult to pay a psychologist on top of the other costs of living. Curtis decided to start a petition calling upon the federal government to introduce free therapy access for youth under the age of 25.
In little more than a week, his petition has gathered over 50,000 signatures and this continues to grow.
Curtis is being backed by NSW Labor MP Justine Elliot, who spoke in Parliament about the value of the petition and has also written to Health Minister Greg Hunt to further the agenda.
Curtis stated, “My aim is to bring down the shocking rates of youth suicide, depression and anxiety by getting the government to step up and do more.”
The Australian Psychological Society showed that its members, on average, charge $260 an hour.
Currently, the Medicare rebate provides either an $84.40 refund per session with a generalist registered psychologist or $124.50 for a clinical psychologist.
This can leave clients out of pocket by up to $135, which is a lot when you have other financial stresses.
In my own experience seeking help is less about the stigma of mental health, it’s about weighing up the cost-benefit amongst all of the other bills that pile in. I’m currently a university student who works three jobs to afford rent, bills and other incidentals. When it came down to whether I should see a psychologist to help with any of my stresses, or pay for my groceries, the groceries won out.
I decided to speak to some of my peers about their experience with the ten-session plan, Medicare rebates and whether the benefits of seeing a psychologist was worth the cost.
One person stated, “You’ll be under the mental health plan for ten sessions; however, it might take four or five sessions to find the right psychologist, and then you’re almost out of sessions.”
Another told me, “I’ve done my ten sessions and they were incredibly helpful, but I was not ready to stop and now to go back and continue to seek treatment is something I have to give serious thought because I can’t afford it. I know that I still need treatment.”
Somebody else shared, “10 appointments is not enough for a clean bill of mental health.”
These comments show why Curtis’ petition hits home for so many young Australians, and the push for free therapy is so needed. Young Australians need support, and mental health is the backbone of our everyday living, so why can we not subsidise it to an affordable margin?
Health Minister Greg Hunt told SBS News that the Medicare Benefits Schedule was currently under review, including the number of sessions under the mental health plan.
“In the 2019-20 Budget, the Government provided $736 million additional funding for mental health services in Australia and is expected to spend an estimated $5.3 billion on mental health this year alone,” Hunt stated.
Hunt said that the mental health task force was in the process of finalizing their review and recommendations which will be presented to the government later this year.
For young people who are battling living stresses on top of increased mental health issues, how can we ask them to fork out more than $100 for a psychologist session?
On Triple J Hack, Curtis questioned why Medicare completely covers physical ailments during doctor appointments, and the costs of hospitals, but leaves such a large gap in mental health care – when mental health is the backbone of one’s wellbeing.
Why are we not treating mental health with equal weight to physical conditions?
Suicide continues to be one of the biggest killers of young Australians, according to Beyond Blue, and we need to support the people of our future. Statistics recognize the impact of mental health issues, so why are the costs of accessing help still so high?
We need to remove the barriers to supporting mental health and recognize that these statistics are people; young Australians are dealing with the consequences of high-stress loads, financial burdens and mental health conditions. As thousands of Australians respond to the petition for free therapy, it shows that we should be taking it seriously.
If you are seeking further support or information about mental health conditions and suicide, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. Other services include the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 657 and Beyond Blue.
Featured image via Unsplash