A researcher is urging mental health services provided by video conferencing be covered by Medicare.
University of South Australia clinical psychologist Susan Simpson says research has shown telemental health services can be just as effective as face-to-face treatment.
“Some clients actually indicate that they prefer video conferencing to face-to-face therapy, saying that it increases their level of comfort, they feel like they have their own space and have control,” she said.
The researcher thinks more people will face up to their mental health issues and seek assistance if services are boosted and Medicare rebates are on offer to ease the financial burden.
“I think one of those things is a lack of funding currently for psychology services; there’s a lack of incentive,” she said.
“With other telepsychiatry services, that’s a wonderful template because Government has offered Medicare rebates to patients who are accessing psychiatry services from remote areas, whereas only people who live in urban areas and live close to psychologists are currently able to access Medicare rebates.”
Harsh life in regions can trigger mental health issues
Dr Simpson says mental health issues are frequent among those often facing the harshness of life in remote areas.
“People in remote and rural Australia are actually at a disadvantage in that way in that they’re not able to access incentives or rebates for video conferencing-based services,” she said.
“There’s a higher prevalence of mental health problems in rural areas than in urban areas and actually … suicide rates are about 1.2 to 2.4 times higher.
“That’s because of things like socio-economic disadvantage, loneliness, isolation, they have a harsher natural environment, they’re more vulnerable to natural disasters such as drought.”
Dr Simpson says the services available to people in regions are often intermittent.
“Often they have to make do with people who are fly-in and fly-out psychologists, their therapy can’t be regular enough, it’s often fortnightly or monthly,” she said.
The issue of telemental health delivery is being discussed at a conference at the University of South Australia in Adelaide.
This article first appeared on ‘ABC‘ on 21 February 2014.