Two-thirds of mental health cases untreated
NEARLY two-thirds of Australians with mental disorders are missing out on medical care, despite the billions of dollars committed to mental health by successive governments.
Findings from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing reveal that almost half the 8841 Australians (aged 16-85 years) surveyed had experienced a mental disorder, with one in five having a mental disorder in the preceding 12 months.
Despite these numbers, only 34% of those with a mental disorder had used services for mental health problems in the previous 12 months.
“Despite the substantial impact of mental disorders on wellbeing and functioning, the majority of people... do not receive care for mental health problems from any health professional,” the authors said.
Study author Professor Gavin Andrews, from the school of psychiatry at the University of NSW, said the finding was unexpected, as he believed at least 40% of people would be accessing mental health services.
“It’s certainly a surprise because the Better Access to Mental Health Care arrangements had been in place for a year by the time the survey was done,” he said.
The most commonly accessed medical services were community providers, especially GPs, who were visited by a quarter of those with a mental disorder.
Visits to psychologists by those with affective disorders nearly doubled from the previous national survey, in 1997, with 23% of these patients accessing their services in 2007.
Dr Nicole Highet (PhD), psychologist and deputy CEO of beyondblue, said more people were seeking someone who they identified as having specialist skills, which was an aim of the Better Outcomes program.
“In that way, it’s working,” she said. However, she believed that the data could show that “only the more educated, well-off people are getting the treatment”.
The overall rates of mental disorders remained static over the decade. The prevalence of anxiety disorders, the most commonly diagnosed mental disorder in the 12 months before the survey, increased from 9% of patients in 1997 to 14% in 2007.
Affective disorders were experienced by 6.2% of respondents, and 5.1% of those surveyed had substance use disorders.
“People expect depression is higher because it has been given a greater profile,” Dr Highet said.