Mental health care is fast becoming out of reach financially for many families, a psychologist has warned.
Jaclyn Smoker spoke out this week, concerned that cost of living pressures, lack of alternatives and inadequate Medicare rebates were forcing people to forgo private treatment sessions.
Her clients include children experiencing anxiety, grief and loss as well as more complex presentations such as autism while adults seek help for depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder.
She said the Department of Veterans' Affairs supported veterans' treatment but again this rate was below the costs of providing psychology services.
"We're getting people when we confirm with them the day before their appointment ... saying lately that they can't afford it this week," she said.
"I had a lady last week who left a message basically saying that she couldn't afford the appointments for her daughter any more and to cancel the up and coming ones.
"So this little girl is missing out on the treatment that's been recommended by a paediatrician."
My concern is with the cost of living going up, it's going to essentially impact further and further on people's access to mental health care services- Psychologist Jaclyn Smoker
Ms Smoker said the demand for psychology services had been consistently high in recent years, with her Glenroy practice in the NSW-Victorian border region typically booked out five to six months in advance and multiple people on a cancellation wait list.
"This is not about increasing the Medicare rebate for me," she said.
"My concern is with the cost of living going up, it's going to essentially impact further and further on people's access to mental health care services.
"It's becoming more and more about who can actually afford it."
A Department of Veterans' Affairs spokesperson said the department could assist clients to find a local provider, fund travel to see a provider and/or pay an above-fee rate if clinically justified.
"Access to mental health practitioners is a known issue across the community, particularly in rural and regional areas, and is not limited to veterans and their families," the spokesperson said.
"This is an issue that requires a co-ordinated response across both the public and private sectors and DVA is committed to doing its part."
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The 2020-21 Budget included $95 million to increase fees for psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health social workers and community nursing providers.
"This fee increase was provided to improve the competitiveness of fees paid by DVA to mental health providers, including psychologists," the DVA spokesperson said.
Health information provided under caretaker conventions on Tuesday noted people having difficulty accessing psychological support due to financial hardship might be able to find assistance through their local Primary Health Networks.
For example, Wodonga Head to Health offered mental health information, services and supports provided through a multidisciplinary team without paying a fee.
Digital services could also be used to complement or as an alternative to face-to-face therapies, and were available at headtohealth.gov.au.
An evaluation of the federal Better Access initiative, which gives Medicare rebates to eligible people to access mental health services, is due to be completed later this year.
This will consider the workforce needed to meet demand and the rebates for services delivered.
Coroner Leveasque Peterson recently noted the limited access to private psychologists when examining a Wangaratta woman's death.
"It is also apparent that the private psychologists had extensive wait lists and heightened demands, with one psychologist not accepting any new referrals until the following year," she said.
Ms Smoker saw these findings and "I absolutely agree".
Her concerns have been passed on to Farrer MP Sussan Ley, with a spokesman confirming on Tuesday the issue was being followed up with federal departments.
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