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Call for improved access to mental health assistance welcomed

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists (NZCCP) supports the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction recommendation to increase access to mental health care through primary care services (such as GP practices). Addressing psychological issues is an important way primary care can contribute to improving the mental health and wellbeing of people in New Zealand.

Dr Malcolm Stewart, NZCCP President, commented that "Despite some growth in the number of psychologists providing assessment and therapy services in primary care teams, the number of psychologists employed in primary care is very low in most parts of the country." Many areas have no psychologists, while other areas can see about half a percent of their population in any year [1]. Dr Stewart emphasised that "There is a clear unmet need at present, especially as one in five New Zealanders have mental health or addiction difficulties in any year [2]." Previous research showed that 36% of people visiting GPs had one or more diagnosable mental health disorder [3].

Psychological therapies help to resolve or prevent the deterioration of many mental health and addictions difficulties for which people see their GP. Psychological therapies can help people to manage and cope with physical health conditions and minimise the negative impact on their lives. In primary care, psychological therapies are generally brief, practical, and focused on helping people make positive gains in their health and wellbeing.

Although many people seek assistance from psychologists in private practice, Dr Stewart said "For those and who suffer from mild-moderate mental health and addictions difficulties and cannot afford private help, being able to access psychological services through primary care is a major advantage." In some areas, people can see a psychologist at their usual GP practice, but in others they may be referred to a stand-alone psychology service.

Psychological therapies are provided by psychologists and other skilled professionals, including trained practice nurses. Dr Stewart said "Increasing the number of psychologists in primary care will help to improve access to psychological therapies for people in New Zealand. NZCCP members are committed to supporting the provision of skilled and safe psychological therapy interventions."

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