Mental healthcare in Australia has been in crisis for some time already. But almost two years into this unprecedented global pandemic, it’s well past time to get our mental health care system working for all of us when we need it.
By Jordon Steele-John
Here are some statistics for you: just under 20 percent of people in Australia - about 4.4 million - have a disability. Another 22 percent have a long-term health condition.
That makes about 60 percent of the population who don’t have a disability or long-term health condition. And because mental health diagnoses aren’t captured by either disability or health condition metrics, it’s safe to say that figure is on the generous side.
That’s a hell of a lot of people who need to access healthcare on a regular basis.
On top of that, our society disables us in many ways, whether that’s a physical barrier like steps or door width, or a societal problem like working 35+ hours a week to keep the rent paid, regardless of what that does to your health. TL;DR: our society is built for a certain type of body and a certain type of brain, and anyone who doesn’t fit the mould is considered broken or a burden.
How does that even make any sense when almost half the population doesn’t fit the mould?
From where I’m sitting, we need big, bold policy changes to make our society inclusive for everyone. These changes start by understanding the ‘social model of disability’: understanding that society has been designed to disable us.
Because our bodies and brains aren’t the problem. Building a world that doesn’t work for more than 40 percent of the population, and making people feel bad about needing assistance to participate fully in society? There’s your problem.
A bold plan
Healthcare is one of the spaces we’ve designed that’s failing to meet the needs of so many people in our community.
And this is where we get to a fundamental principle, which is slowly becoming better understood: nothing about us, without us.
To put it another way: the people who use health services should be the people who design health services.
And that’s why I’m so proud to share my first policy announcement as The Australian Greens health spokesperson - the first ever health spokesperson with a physical disability in any party. It’s one that those who use our health service are calling out for, and one that I understand from lived experience.
The idea is simple, and well overdue.
We’re going to make mental healthcare free and unlimited by putting it into Medicare.
It’s a real possibility that the Greens will gain the balance of power at the next election. That means we’ll be in shared power with the Labor party – and that in turn means this is a plan that can actually really happen. It’s within reach. And it’s about bloody time.
Business as usual isn’t cutting it, and never was
Mental healthcare in Australia has been in crisis for some time already.
And now, almost two years into a pandemic that has forced us to isolate ourselves from loved ones, put all our plans for the future on hold, and laid bare the government’s total ineptitude and cruelty? It’s past breaking point.
There’s so much work to be done to get our mental health care system working for all of us. And one of the key barriers we need to overcome is the prohibitive cost of getting mental health care in the first place.
Right now, a mental health care plan contributes $129.55 to the cost of your psychology appointment. But the Australian Psychological Society recommends that appointments are priced at $267. That’s a gap of $137.45 - more than the subsidised portion of the appointment.
At that rate, your 10 annual sessions with a psychologist cost you $1,374 out of pocket.
And once your Medicare session cap is up, you’re back to paying full price for a session.
This is such an easy thing to fix. Under our plan, we would commit $1.12 billion to raise the Medicare rate (so your psych can bill the whole cost to Medicare), and we’ll remove the limit on sessions.
OK, but how are we going to pay for it?
It’s a matter of priorities. We have the resources to provide free universal mental healthcare, but as a nation we’ve chosen not to.
Instead, we funnel billions of dollars into vanity projects. That submarine contract with France that the government just ripped up? A $2.4 billion bill. The cost of the new submarines we’ve committed to? At least a cool $52 billion, thanks. Makes $1.12 billion pale in comparison, doesn’t it?
Even putting aside those bloody subs, we could raise $338 billion in a decade by taxing the tycoons and big corporations their fair share.
It doesn’t take a lot to create and enact policy like this, but it does take the right people and the political will. And with the Greens in the balance of power, that’s exactly what we’ll get.
When we’re each able to be uncompromisingly, fearlessly, proudly ourselves, there’s no telling what we can achieve together. It’s well past time that society made room for all of us, no matter the status of our bodies or brains.
Sign up to the campaign here.
Jordon Steele-John is the Greens’ spokesperson for health and mental health.