Why do I have to wait months to see a psychologist?

We are currently facing a national mental health crisis. Over the past decade we as health professionals in Australia have been tirelessly chipping away at challenging the stigma surrounding accessing mental health services.

However, we are now inundated, which has illuminated a system that is not working to support people or mental health clinicians.

People are being told they must wait months to speak with a qualified mental health professional. A recent ABC article for example ran with the headline; Nine-month waiting list for psychologists in Queensland as doctors forced to ‘pull favours’ (link to full article at the bottom).

There are many factors at play here which are contributing to this unacceptable lag time. The increase in Medicare funded sessions has meant that people who are in therapy are not being discharged as quickly. This is great for some, but a challenge for others trying to book in.

There are also much needed pools of funding via NDIS that were not previously available, the criteria for a psychological injury at work has also changed allowing injured workers to access more support. Another contributing factor is that phasing out of one of the training pathways to becoming a psychologist has meant less options for people wanting to pursue a career as a psychologist

Many articles at the moment are about treatment burnout, I have a different perspective. We need to zoom out and look at the systems that aren’t working. As a psychologist who has recently taken a new position and building my client load, it is frustrating to think that there are people needing to be seen, but who don’t know I am available. The ethics around advertising as psychologists makes this challenging.

It seems another contributor is the lack of a user friendly, shared referral database for GP’s to quickly search for mental health professionals with availability. I stress the word “quickly”, as GP’s are obviously inundated at the moment which leaves it, in many cases up to the individual to source their own help.

There is also a responsibility of us, the mental health professionals, psychologists, counsellors etc. to lean on each other during this difficult time. It seems to be us trying to triage our waitlists and contact our colleagues for appropriate referral pathways.

We have the technology to deliver confidential, secure, safe telehealth services to those that need it, we just need the tools to connect people and I feel that is where we are letting our profession and those that have the courage to seek help down.

I’m hopeful that someone in a position to drive change may read this and be inspired to reply with some suggestions as to how we can fix this problem, but if not, I hope it has given you food for thought.

“Nine-month waiting list for psychologists in Queensland as doctors forced to ‘pull favours’