Number of Medicare-subsidised psychology sessions doubled in wake of coronavirus pandemic

The coalition will spend more than $5.7 billion on mental health services this year as Australians grapple with the trauma of last summer’s bushfires and the coronavirus pandemic.

The government is upping mental health support to help those struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.

The government is upping mental health support to help those struggling during the coronavirus pandemic. Source: AAP.

The number of Medicare-subsidised psychology sessions Australians can access per year will be doubled from 10 to 20 as the government embarks on record health spending in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2020-21 Budget, released on Tuesday, revealed $5.7 billion would be spent on mental health services this financial year, an increase of $148 million on last year’s budget.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said mental health and suicide prevention was a “national priority” following last year’s catastrophic bushfires and the coronavirus pandemic, which has meant many Australians are physically isolated from friends and family.

“My heart goes out to all those Australians - young and old - for whom COVID-19 has caused such pain,” he said as he handed down the budget on Tuesday night.

“My message tonight is that this house stands with you. You are not alone.”

The doubling of the Better Access Initiative, which allows people to access psychological services under Medicare after being referred by their GP, will cost the government $101 million over two years.

Victorians who have experienced mental health impacts as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns, the longest of any Australian state, will also be able to access increased mental health support with more than $47.3 million in additional funding.

Almost $30 million of this will go towards establishing 15 “enhanced mental health clinics”, and a further $7 million for Beyond Blue, Lifeline and Kids Helpline, and $5 million to Headspace to manage demand in the state.

Another $5 million will also go towards digital and telephone services for vulnerable populations across Victoria, including culturally and linguistically diverse communities, new and expecting parents, and people with eating disorders.

The youth mental health support service Headspace will also undergo its largest expansion to date, with the current network of 124 locations set to grow to 153 by 2022.

Lifeline, Beyond Blue, and Kids Helpline will also receive more than $14 million in additional funding.

Tuesday’s budget revealed a record-breaking deficit of $213.7 billion for the 2020-21 financial year, with net debt set to peak at $966 billion in June 2024.

Published 6 October 2020 at 8:05pm, updated 6 October 2020 at 9:52pm
By Maani Truu