The pool of psychologists available to struggling Australians must be expanded to combat a growing mental health crisis, the nation's peak psychologists body says.
The Australian Association of Psychologists has warned the country is "crying out" for extra mental health support during COVID-19, which has forced millions of Australians to endure grueling lockdowns.
But it claimed there was an untapped cohort of provisional psychologists ready to offer their expertise.
The federal and ACT governments have combined to put more than $5m towards mental health support in the capital territory, including a Commonwealth plan to establish a pop-up clinic and fast-track a phone assessment and referral service.
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But AAPi has questioned where the staff to resource the new facility will come from. Canberra-based psychologist with AAPi Linda Bruce said the health system was already "clearly overburdened", and demand had more than doubled during lockdown.
"One of the chief therapies to decrease depression and anxiety is to encourage people to increase their social connection. The lockdowns have done the reverse; they've actually created more depression and anxiety," she said.
"Then there are people who were anxious or depressed to start with, who are suicidal.
"So it's made the ones who have had problems worse and created a lot of other problems, because we need to socially connect with each other in order to stay sane."
AAPi has called for provisional psychologists to be approved for Medicare rebates for their services.
Provisional psychologists had completed their tertiary education, and were eligible to undertake a period of supervision as they honed their craft.
There were over 6400 provisional psychologists across Australia, including 157 in the ACT and 2000 in NSW. Dr Bruce said allowing them to practice would ease waiting times and cut costs for patients.
"It was hard to get into a psychologist before the lock downs and now it's almost impossible," she said.
"There's a huge demand. A lot of the ones that can get in, can't afford [it]. People who have lost their jobs can't afford to pay a full-fee psychologist."
AAPi has also called for the client rebate for all psychology services to be raised to $150. The rebate currently stood at $88.25 for a registered psychologist and $129.55 for a clinical psychologist.
An AAPi survey last year found psychologists had reported an 84 per cent increase in anxiety in their clients, and more than half had a waiting list of clients they were unable to book in.
The Commonwealth's plan put forward $1.6m to build the pop-up facility, along with $400,000 for eating disorder services, and $320,000 to headspace for youth support.
It comes as Lifeline Canberra reported a 40 per cent uptick in demand for crisis support services.
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