The Australian Labor government is reducing access to mental health care

The Australian Labor Party kicked off the new year by cutting the number of government-funded psychologist appointments per person per year from 20 to 10.

Victorian mental health workers protest on August 3, 2021 [Photo: Health and Community Services Union Facebook]

This highly regressive measure is linked to the government’s aim to reduce debt and the budget deficit by cutting government spending, including for vital public services. It is also part of the campaign to portray the COVID-19 pandemic as a thing of the past. The number of sessions funded was initially increased from 10 to 20 in 2020, in response to a Mental Health Productivity Commission report released due to concerns about staffing shortages during the pandemic.

The need for subsidized psychological treatment, like the pandemic itself, has not disappeared. COVID-19 infections continue, globally and in Australia, causing debilitating long-term effects and deaths. The deepening social crisis, fueled by rising costs of living and declining living standards, has increased rather than decreased demand for mental health support.

More than 20 percent of the Australian population suffers from some form of mental health disorder. Young people are particularly burdened by the mental health crisis, with around 40 percent of 16-24 year olds struggling with some form of mental health problem. There are many more people who would benefit from an appointment with a psychologist without a formal diagnosis, in addition to those who do not seek a diagnosis. Only 5 percent of the adult population had one or more subsidized psychologist sessions last year.

The halving of subsidized appointments will cause even more suffering. While the affluent upper middle class will remain unaffected and can afford private treatment as needed, the working class will be hit hard.

Labor Secretary Mark Butler tried to cover his tracks by preposterously claiming that the policy of cutting subsidies was to improve health services. He stressed that the 20 sessions available had “exacerbated existing waiting lists and barriers to entry”, with “lowest income Australians” being particularly affected by a shortage of available psychologists.

This situation should lead to a massive expansion of government funding for mental health care. When a system cannot serve some of the people who need it, the solution is to increase the available resources, not to reduce them.

The Australian Labor government is reducing access to mental health care

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