Accessing mental health services *frustration frustration*

Headspace is supposedly the ‘National Youth Mental Health initiative’ in Australia. So why is it that it only has one psychologist avaialble at my local headspace centre, and on a part time basis only? They have eight staff altogether; a couple of youth workers, a couple of GPs, a family & carer support worker, a drug and alcohol worker, a part time social worker and as mentioned, the part time psychologist. But you’d think they’d have more than one part time psychologist, especially being the only headspace center in the Perth metropolitan area. According to their most recent newsletter which was published in June 2009, at the end of May they had 164 active clients. It’s now the end of March 2010, I’m sure they would’ve had even more young people wanting to engage with their services. How are eight staff members, two of them part time, meant to provide care to what I’m predicting is by now is over 200 young people?

There are 30 headspace centres around Australia. There are three in Western Australia. One in Fremantle, which you could say is the metropolitan area, and two in regional areas. This is not enough. Professor Patrick McGorry, psychiatrist, youth mental health expert and Australian of the Year 2010, is calling for the number of headspace centres to double to 60. I agree, it would mean that more young people would be able to access youth mental health services all over the country. However, with just one part time psychologist at my local headspace, funds need to be put into improving the current services too.

The government gets the thumbs up for funding these 30 headspace centres around Australia, though so much more needs to be done for youth mental health. 75% of mental illnesses start before the age of 25. Yet with funding health services, mental health services often get left behind. Why? Are physical health problems deemed more important, more life threatening than mental illnesses? This is untrue and the figures speak for themselves. Suicide is the leading cause of death for young people. In Western Australia in 2006 the road toll was 201. Compare this with the number of suicides in 2006 which was 259. This isn’t even counting the people who attempt suicide, which is thought to be ten times the number who actually die from it. Most people with physical illnesses get good access to health care, the same needs to happen with mental illnesses.

I’m just incredibly frustrated at how hard it is to seek mental health services, as a young person who can’t afford to pay for private services. I only found out yesterday through reading the newsletters on their website, that my local headspace only has one part time psychologist. It’s disappointing, because you hear headspace being advertised so much as the national youth mental health initiative that offers low or no cost access to mental health professionals all under the one roof. Then to hear that maybe it doesn’t offer as much as it should, perhaps because of a lack of funding, is terribly disappointing.

So where does a young person like me, suffering from mental illness, get help from? What was attractive about headspace was that it’s for young people and it’s low or no cost. But now I’m doubting if they are equipped to help me. Last year it was no problem knowing where to access mental health care, I had a private psychiatrist and clinical psychologist who I saw. It was my parents paying for my mental health care. Seeking help again this year, I have my reasons for not wanting to bring them into it. But by myself, I cannot afford $50 per session with a private clinical psychologist. Cuurently with Uni I am only able to work 6 hours a week which means I get about $100 per week. I live with my parents so I luckilly do not have to pay for basics like food, rent and bills. That does not mean I don’t have other costs, like clothing, stationary, text books, mobile phone bills to pay for.

As I’ve mentioned before on my blog, the University Counselling Service only offers short term counselling with a maximum of 8-10 sessions per year. Of course, short term and 8-10 sessions is better than nothing, and it’s free, but I had 11 sessions with my previous clinical psychologist last year yet I’m still struggling as much as I was before. And at least it could be long term if necessary. I don’t think 8-10 sessions and ‘short term counselling’ is going to be enough for me to recover from depression, self harm and eating issues. My psychologist last year knew that too. Before I lost contact with her, she was making arrangements so that when I reached the limit of 18 sessions per year under Medicare, I could have more sessions with her in that year at a reduced cost.

I wonder what it’s like in other countries, is it also this hard to access mental health care? I used to be on the Cutting and Self Mutilation Boards on a lot and I’ve talked to people from the US, England and Canada. I’ve also read some mental health blogs by people from those countries too. It seems like some people are able to see their psychologist weekly? Do you have to pay for this? Is Australia that behind in mental health care that we only get twelve subsidised sessions per year while other countries get to see their psychs weekly?

I might be being ungrateful about the free services that are available to me. It’s just that whatever service I access, it’s going to feel like a step down from the level of mental health care I had last year, as a private patient. I guess I just have to accept that in this world, you get what you pay for and that if you can’t afford something, it’s too bad. It’s incredibly frustrating that I don’t know how and where to get appropriate mental health care. Headspace haven’t called me back either. They said they’d call me back in 3-5 days, it’s now been 10 days, though it’s only been 6 working days. Silly, naive me just assumed that headspace the supposed ‘national youth mental health initiative’ would have psychologists readily available for counselling, if they do call me back I’m going to have to ask them and be clear about what sort of service they can provide.

*For anyone who’s interested, interviews with Professor Patrick McGorry about mental health in Australia are available online on SBS’s Insight and ABC’s Lateline is available as a transcript of the episode.

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