One city psychologist has joined a myriad of health professionals calling for federal reform, saying they're stressed and fear burn out due to an increased demand for their services.
Dr Jodie Fleming is a Warrnambool psychologist who said for the first time in 15 years, her case-load was becoming unmanageable with wait times for her services booked up to 12 to 14 weeks in advance.
"It has been unlike anything I've ever experienced in my career," she said.
"We have a real shortage of private mental health clinicians that our community are able to access.
"In recent years, I've chosen to change from a clinical setting to an education setting mostly for my own stress management because the demand for one-on-one psychological support was so overwhelming within our community. That was before COVID."
Her comments came as a national call was made this week to improve conditions in the industry as demand for mental health services surge.
On Wednesday, the Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention presented 44 recommendations to the House of Representatives, including the need to introduce a student-to-psychologist ratio of one to 500.
Dr Fleming said anecdotally, hundreds of families from schools in the region were on a mental health waiting list.
"We've seen the fallout in schools as students are requiring higher levels of support while they are awaiting support from external services," she said.
"It's difficult for people who work in the helping professions as we're generally fairly bad at looking after ourselves, often putting the needs of others first, always saying 'yes'.
"So for me personally, being booked out for 12 weeks ahead means I haven't been able to forward-plan time off when I've needed it.
"We're also all living through COVID lockdowns like everyone else so our natural stress levels are higher, as are everybody else's, but we're the helpers so we're expected to have the same amount of energy when actual fact we're going through what our clients are going through too.
"It can be a tricky kind of landscape."
Other recommendations in the report included incorporating professional stigma and burnout reduction strategies and developing avenues for mental health supervision and debriefing for all participants in the mental health workforce.
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But Dr Fleming said despite having the best intentions, government attempts to assist the crisis had in some cases made things more difficult.
"To their credit, the government have tried to come up with lots of different solutions," she said.
"A lot of people will access private psychologists through the Medicare system and it's varied the number of sessions available to people since its inception but in most recent years people have been able to access 10 Medicare-rebated sessions per year.
"People tend to space out their sessions and that allows us to also see more people in a year. But the government last year doubled the Medicare-rebated sessions available from 10 to 20 so what that did in effect was clog up the existing services with existing clients.
"It made it really difficult for anyone who was yet to engage in an external private psychologist and get the help they were looking for."
She said like many in the field, feelings of guilt and obligation had worsened her sleep schedule, diet and exercise routine.
"I've read many articles and forums about psychologists who know people need appointments so they're seeing them at eight, nine o'clock at night and on weekends," she said.
"The normal boundaries you put in place to protect yourself get thrown out the window when you think other people are acutely in need. When you're in a helping profession that's your default setting.
"There's been times when my sleep schedule is quite bad, my diet has gotten worse, my exercise habits have gone out the window, and I've experienced lethargy and languishing.
"It reduces your satisfaction with life which nobody wants. There's no easy solution which feeds that sense of helplessness and it's all a yucky cycle, really.
"I do however think we are coming out the other side but we really need more services on the ground at the end of the day. Even our public services are overwhelmed and unable to fill that gap at the moment so it's a tricky space."
Anyone seeking crisis support should contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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