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Seeking help is a positive step and not a sign of weakness

by clinical psychologist and Deputy Clinic Director, Molly Robbins

Every so often, moments of great national tragedy catalyse reforms that make Australia a better place. 

Just as the Port Arthur massacre spurred gun control, the recent Bondi Junction shopping centre tragedy presents an opportunity to critically evaluate mental health services in this country. 

A coronial inquiry will follow this catastrophic event, focusing on the perpetrator’s mental state, revealed by his anguished family. 

But we already know that a mental health crisis has been building in this country for years. Demand for psychiatry and psychology services spiked during the Covid-19 pandemic as people struggled with anxiety and depression. 

They were worried about their jobs, finances, getting sick, their families – yet lockdowns isolated them from support networks. 

The federal government responded by doubling the number of Medicare subsidised psychology sessions available to individuals from 10 to 20, but that measure lapsed in January 2023. 

The demand for services though did not subside.

Today, anxiety remains prevalent, along with depression and feelings of hopelessness, sometimes brought on by cost-of-living pressures. 

Anxiety is a particular problem among children who are also presenting with neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD, autism, and learning difficulties.

Meanwhile, access to services remains a concern. 

Not enough psychologists have been trained, and many of those in private psychology practices have been at capacity, have closed their books or have long waitlists – usually three months or so. 

The limited, subsidised government services are often rationed for those with acute mental illnesses, leaving it possible for people to fall through the gaps. 

This is a problem because timely intervention is critical when it comes to mental health.

When people can’t access services early, problems tend to build and can have a greater impact on others, for example, in the form of family violence. And events such as those in Sydney can have a ripple effect that shatters the sense of security and safety of an entire community. 

There is no quick fix because becoming a psychologist is a rigorous undertaking, requiring at least six years of study and supervised practice to qualify for registration. 

But it can be a rewarding career for those who want to help and care for others, and it is a profession that is well regulated and has high levels of professionalism and ethical practice. 

In the meantime, if you or someone you know needs help, there are several options. 

You can talk with your GP about a referral to a psychologist and eligibility for Medicare-subsidised sessions, which can be up to 10 per year. 

Some people can access support through workplace employee programs, and others will be covered by private health insurance or NDIS funding. 

There is now another option for those in the Gold Coast region. 

The Bond University Health & Wellness Clinic at Robina is accepting people for therapy sessions that cost $30, which is a much more affordable option for people. 

You don’t need a referral from a GP and appointments are currently available. 

The provisional psychologist you see will already have had four years of tertiary training and be supervised by a clinical psychologist. 

The Health & Wellness Clinic provides our postgraduate students with the extensive experience and specialised training they need to become registered and begin practising unsupervised. 

Our clinic also provides psychological assessments at an affordable price. However not everyone is willing to get the help they need, which can be particularly difficult for their families who can feel stuck and helpless. 

For those worried about a loved one, there are agencies that support families of people with mental health, such as Mental Health Carers Australia (1300 554 660). 

Psychologists can also help family members, and if they have serious immediate concerns, they can always link in with emergency services. 

Things are changing but there is still a stigma associated with mental ill-health. Our message needs to be that talking about it and seeking help is a positive step; not sign of weakness, but a strength.

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