I have been watching the Alliance for Better Access campaign with great interest. I’m frustrated and very disappointed at the lack of recognition of the issue from our politicians and the formulaic non-answers that are given when they do finally respond to queries. Additionally, there is a certain irony in spending millions of dollars on advertising to de-stigmatise mental illness, whilst simultaneously cutting treatment options.
In 2011, I was the victim of an assault that has left me with PTSD and co-morbid depression. My husband was a witness and is dealing with depression and trauma symptoms. We are the parents of three young children, all under school age, and my husband is a stay-at-home-dad. I’m scared about what our future as a family looks like. I’m barely holding myself together well enough to maintain my full-time job and the pressure is enormous. Access to my treating psychologist is a critical tool to keep me going, along with appropriate medication and diligent self-care such as exercise.
Limiting the number of Medicare-subsidised psychological sessions to 10 has a huge impact on the progress of my treatment. Instead of being able to address the fundamental situation which caused my trauma, my psychologist and I are restricted to dealing with surface-level issues, leaving my PTSD in a holding-pattern. It’s the equivalent of giving pain relief to treat a broken leg. It might take a bit of the edge off the symptoms but it does nothing to fix the ultimate problem and get the patient up and walking again.
My family is standing at the edge of a huge precipice – mentally, emotionally and financially. If I become unable to work and my husband returns to the workforce instead, our income would drop by around 50%. With my mental health issues, I am not able to look after our children on my own on an ongoing basis, so they would have to go to childcare. We would need to sell our house and start renting, and we would be reliant on various government benefits – disability support pension, family tax benefits, childcare benefit, rent assistance – and eligible for a Health Care Card. These cuts to Better Access are short-sighted and I dread the impact we will see to the most vulnerable parts of our population over the coming months as people reach the end of their 10 session limit.
When you’re dealing with a mental health condition, every day becomes a battle. Getting evidence-based treatment that’s appropriate for my circumstances shouldn’t be another battle on top of what I am already going through. My recovery should not be stymied because it doesn’t fit a bureaucratic timetable. As far as I’m aware, there is not another critical health service that is limited in this way and I think it’s disgusting that people who are struggling with their circumstances are being targeted in this manner.
With my appointments rationed out to cope with the ten session limit, I feel like therapy isn’t having enough of an impact on my PTSD. I manage day-to-day stresses but I feel like I’m stagnating as far as actually progressing with treatment for my PTSD. There are a lot of things about my recovery that I would prefer to do with the support of my therapist, but I can’t do that now because of the cuts to Medicare.
I was also lucky to be referred directly to a psychologist who I can work well with (which is maybe down to having a GP that knows me well and could refer on appropriately). Some of my friends haven’t been so lucky and they’ve chewed through a couple of sessions just getting a feel for their therapist and working out that they weren’t the right person. What are people meant to do if they need to start over with a therapist they can trust?
The ten session limit in Medicare has meant that I have been forced to spread out appointments with my therapist. When there were more sessions available it only took a few minutes to reconnect, but now it takes 30-40 minutes just to feel like I am being understood. We struggle as a family to the point where my husband is holding off returning to part-time work. With three young children and both parents struggling with mental health issues, we are at full capacity.
Note: Reading personal stories can be confronting for some people. If you need to chat with someone urgently for support, please contact Lifeline for their free crisis support services. If you’re under 18 you can also contact Kids Help Line.