Mental health the forgotten land of self-care?

28 May 2019

Written by: Laura Brooker

Mental health treatment has changed extensively through the years in Australia. From asylums to psychiatrists, what does treatment look like today?

We’ve all experienced stress or anxiety at some point in our lives.

Gone are the days where you were sent to a mental institution for having dark thoughts about life. Now we get help from professionals without the trauma.

So what is the Australian Government doing to keep treatment of mental health affordable?

Not enough is being done for mental health care, according to Dr Sebastian Rosenberg, researcher at Australian National University.

“I think mental health is the forgotten land of self-care in Australia,” he told upstart.“If you look at things like Commonwealth funds, politicians will rush to flaunt results showing Australia as the best or second-best health system in the world with little justification. We’re not middle ranking we are one of the richest countries in the world. Our mental health is a disgrace. It’s a crisis.”

Better Access is a very commonly used mental health program in Australia, and is a part of Medicare. Under the program, once patients visit their General Practitioner (GP), they are given 10 free sessions with a mental health provider, or have their sessions partially subsidised by the Government.

When the Australian Government delivered the 2019 budget, you might have heard that the more money is going into mental health. No extra money was announced to go into the Better Access Program, so patients can still expect the same mental health plan.

So, what help is there for people having a tough time?

Luke Obrien is very open about his struggles with mental health. He went to his GP when he wanted help with his personal struggles and got put on a mental health plan, which makes getting treatment cheaper, and in some cases, free.

“If I was seeing a psychiatrist for about a 35 to 40-minute appointment it’d be about $300 or more,” he told upstart.“But then I would get a rebate off that which would make the sessions under $100.”

“It’s quite expensive to seek private help and I think the 10 sessions [of free mental health treatment] allowed me to get a better understanding of what I was going through,” he said.

Obrien’s mental health journey hasn’t been an easy one. Now he talks all about it on Facebook under the name Fruity Lex.

“There’s not much [mental health services], I know myself as a male who’s going through mental health problems, I haven’t really been swamped,” he said.

Since he became interested in mental health research, Dr Rosenberg has examined how Better Access has transformed through the years. Its name changed in 2005, when it was originally called Better Outcomes.

“Better Outcomes was a tiny program,” he said. “It was only ever about 50 million dollars and 50 million is about three weeks’ worth of the better access program.”

Before the Better Outcomes program, mental health was not understood as it is today. People were put into mental asylums instead of heading to their GP or a psychologist. It’s crazy to think that most of these asylums were only closed in the 1980s to 1990s, especially when you consider the kinds of treatment that took place inside them. This included lobotomies, electroconvulsive therapy and the wearing of straight-jackets.

According to the Medical Journal of Australia, all Australian State Governments adopted a National Mental Health Policy in 1992. In 2002, the total spending on mental health was $3.1 billion, which was an increase of 65 percent since 1993.

Years later, when the Better Access program was introduced, mental health care had obviously come a long way and much more money began to be spent on the issue. Now, there is more than just one option for people to get mental health help, and some businesses are even introducing help.

One of these mental health programs for small businesses is called Ahead For Business, which was established in 2018.

Founder of Billy Goat Soap and mental health advocate, Leanne Faulkner spoke to SmartCompany about how grateful she was for the program.

“It’s fantastic,” she told SmartCompany. “It’s long overdue that there is now this attention being placed on this very important area.”

Although Faulkner loves the program, she thinks it should have been implemented a long time ago, and that there could be more funding for it.

There are plenty of other different areas for mental health funding and plenty that need improving as well, according to Luke Obrien.

He thinks mental health education should be taught from a young age, even in primary schools, so that children (especially boys) know how to deal with their feelings.

“Start in primary school and associate men’s feelings and emotions in a positive way and not in a negative way,” he said. “I think men need to be targeted at a very young age to change and encourage certain behaviours they’re not used to.”

According to Mental Health Australia, this year’s budget announced over $11 million to aid mental health funding for children and young people.

The Greens take mental health seriously, and like Dr Rosenberg, believe more money could go into it.

Rachel Siewart, spokesperson for The Greens, told the Australian Medical Association that the mental health system needs to be improved.

“There has been under-investment in the mental health sector by successive governments, which resulted in the system failing to meet the needs of thousands of Australians…” she said.

So what will mental health help look like in the future? The ever-changing service could go in any direction, according to Dr Rosenberg.

“It is largely bullsh-t that our system is still very much focused on what works for the health professionals rather than what works for consumers and their families,” Dr Rosenberg said.

“I would further say that our system does not have strong well-resourced bodies that can properly articulate the voice of consumers and carers in driving mental health reform and I think that is also a very important reason why things have been allowed to become as disintegrated as they are.”

Laura Brooker is a third year Bachelor of Media and Communications (Journalism) student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on Twitter @LauraBrooker16

Photo: Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash.