The Federal Government has announced a $3.2 million initiative to ‘educate’ GPs in referral options concerning mental health. The subtext is that 8 months down the track since the Medicare subsidised consultations with psychologists were introduced, the service is proving to be too popular and costly. The popularity of the rebate is interesting considering there has been little publicity, or even encouragement, for this GP referral service since it’s introduction at the beginning of the year.
Although the re-education scheme, in the hope that cheaper mental health services such as consulting a social worker or occupational therapist will be offered in preference, was only announced yesterday – I have for some time had a significant number of clients complain about the difficulty they have had in convincing their GP that they would benefit from seeing a psychologist. One woman was told by her regular doctor that she would need to come back for a long consultation for assessment before she would decide whether seeing a psychologist was justifiable. While this extra consulting may be considered a hidden drain on Medicare, the issue is that the patients often find it confronting to ask for help over mental health issues and this just makes it less likely they will get the help they need. Some doctors however, have given the referral without hesitation.
But equally of concern is the ongoing habit of the majority of GPs to prescribe popular antidepressant drugs at the first sign of depression in a client, without offering a referral of any kind for emotional help. Anecdotally, as reported to me by my clients – this is the most common course of action occurring in Melbourne General Practices.
Although drug therapy may be the cheapest option to the government, in common mental health issues such as exogenous depression it is not often the most effective course of action. In the notoriously underfunded health sector of mental health – $3.2 million could go a long way in appropriately, therapeutically assisting a vast number of patients.
Sometimes finding a psychologist can take a little time to get one who you feel comfortable with – this is no different from finding a good match with a doctor, naturopath or any other health practitioner. But you do have a right to demand the referral, in order to make this service affordable. If you are unhappy with the way you have been treated in this area, consider contacting the Health Services Commissioner in your State.