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Calls for the government to offer more rebated psychology sessions

Photo: Coronavirus revealing mental health gaps
Psychologists and psychiatrists are facing struggles during the coronavirus pandemic, with calls for the government to offer more rebated psychology sessions.

Referrals to psychologists have dropped since the coronavirus outbreak, with calls for the government to double the number of subsidised sessions.

Australian Clinical Psychology Association public officer Leanne Clarke said some clinics had seen a 30 to 40 per cent drop in new patients since the outbreak.

"I'm hearing from other clinics that some are looking at potentially not being able to make it through this time," Ms Clarke told AAP.

She said clinics providing psychology services for children and teens had been impacted the most.
Ms Clarke wanted the government to look at options to streamline GP referrals to psychology services while fewer people saw their doctor.

She also wants the government to double the number of sessions attracting Medicare rebates from 10 to 20, saying it was a problem well before the pandemic.

"It is an issue that's been brought to the government's attention many times and I know that they're aware it's a problem," she said.

She said many patients had made huge gains before the outbreak only to see the work undone by ongoing stress.

Telehealth sessions had also been more exhausting for psychologists, while some patients had felt too uncomfortable to participate in counselling from home, Ms Clarke said.

A lack of investment in telehealth infrastructure over the past decade also had left psychiatrists on the back foot.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists president-elect Vinay Lakra said public and private psychiatrists needed to be provided with technology that could conduct video conferencing.

The lack of video capability made it hard to build trust with new clients, but psychiatrists had adapted well to some of the changes, he said.

"That's a very positive message from this, that there are things which we can do that do not require a face-to-face appointment," Dr Lakra told AAP.

Digital mental health service ReachOut has put its services online for free to help parents of teenagers during the pandemic.

Chief executive Ashley de Silva said with thousands of teenagers now out of school, parents already overwhelmed with juggling their own anxieties during the outbreak were emerging as a group being particularly impacted and they needed support looking after their families.

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