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Are mental health patients the “poor cousins” of physical health patients?

It’s relatively straightforward for most doctors in Australia to treat someone with a physical health issue. A doctor will discuss symptoms, do a thorough check-up, make a diagnosis, and prescribe appropriate medication if necessary.

But it seems many doctors struggle to effectively and respectfully treat those with mental health issues, as a recent memoir has revealed.

In Happy Never After, Melbourne journalist Jill Stark documents her struggles with mental health. Since the book’s release, she has been inundated with messages from people around Australia with similar stories of struggle against a public health system that does not adequately support those with mental health issues.

According to research conducted by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, 62% of people visiting a doctor present with mental health problems – significantly more than any other medical condition. Yet Australia’s GPs are too time-poor to deal with complex mental health issues, and its Medicare system rations access to subsidised psychological services to 10 sessions per year.

“Our complex emotional pain is being treated with 6-minute medicine by time-poor GPs struggling to meet demand in a system woefully ill-equipped to deal with the mental health challenges of modern life,” says Jill.

“When I was at my lowest point, I saw my psychologist twice a week just to keep my head above water. I raced through my Medicare sessions in 5 weeks. At almost $200 per hour, I then had to raise almost $400 a week just to stay in therapy and out of hospital.”

As Jill points out, there are very few other areas of healthcare in which the system places such “arbitrary limits” on recovery times.

This raises Jill’s very legitimate question then:

“How much longer can we continue like this? When will we stop treating emotional health as the poor cousin to physical health?”

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