Image: Portrait of two aboriginal women

Improving access to primary mental health care services

Kylie is a 44 year old Aboriginal woman living in Central Queensland who has become depressed.

Her local Aboriginal Medical Service, in partnership with the Medicare Local, is able to provide Kylie with access to an Aboriginal Health Worker providing psychological support to assist her to deal with her depression.

The organisations are also working together to build the number of Aboriginal Health Workers able to offer such support to the community through training and development of culturally appropriate services.

Most mental illness is treated in the primary mental health care sector

The primary mental health care sector treats many of the 3 million Australians with common mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

Most people receive treatment through the Better Access initiative, which provides Medicare‑subsidised access to psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health social workers and occupational therapists. However, an independent evaluation of the Better Access initiative has found that it is not always able to help people in hard to reach populations, such as children, Indigenous Australians, low socioeconomic groups, and rural and regional Australians.

Expanding Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) program

That is why the Government is allocating $206 million over five years to double the size of the ATAPS program to expand access to psychological services to hard to reach population groups.

This will allow general practitioners to refer more patients who are not well served by Better Access to allied health professionals who can deliver focused psychological strategies at low or no cost to the patient.

The additional funding will support around 185,000 people over five years including: children and families; Indigenous Australians; individuals in low socioeconomic areas and other hard‑to‑reach population groups.

Better targeting existing investment in Better Access

The Government is also improving the cost‑effectiveness of the Better Access initiative to save $580 million over five years. Informed by an independent evaluation, these savings will be achieved by:

  • more accurately reimbursing general practitioners for the time it takes to provide specific mental health services; and
  • rebalancing the number of annual allied health sessions to better align treatment to the needs of people.

The savings have been redirected to new mental health initiatives to better target the Governments investment and to benefit more Australians with mental illness.