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Carers need more mental health and wellbeing supports this National Carers Week, and beyond

While a mental ill-health crisis is gripping the nation, new research affirms that carers are at particularly high risk of mental ill-health compared to Australians without caring responsibilities.

The 2022 Carer Wellbeing Survey showed while psychological distress affects more than 1 in 4 of all Australians, this doubles to almost 1 in 2 carers experiencing psychological distress. Carers aged 25-44, unemployed carers, and LGBTQIA+ carers were at the highest risk, with the majority of those groups experiencing psychological distress.

“Carers make up at least 12.5% of the population. Their wellbeing is important in itself, but it also impacts their ability to effectively look after the people they care for,” said Carers Australia CEO Alison Brook. “There are specialised mental health services in place for carers, but mainstream mental health supports are often unable to address the scope of the psychological distress which affects many carers.”

Carers can currently access six free one-on-one counselling sessions with a counsellor experienced in supporting carers through the Carer Gateway. However, some carers report a fixed number of sessions are insufficient to address ongoing mental ill-health or illness. Service coverage challenges mean many parts of Australia have difficulties securing a mental health workforce with this specialised knowledge. Carers hoping to utilise the Medicare ‘Better Access’ scheme in complement to these services are faced with the additional challenge of working with a mainstream clinician or mental health worker who may not necessarily be specialised in the experience of carers.

Carers Australia welcomed the increase in GP Mental Health Plan coverage from 10 to 20 counselling sessions per year. However, according to research by the Productivity Commission, large gaps between service costs and Medicare coverage mean that it remains difficult to access effective and ongoing mental health treatment without significant out-of-pocket expense. Given that 53.9% of carers described their financial situation in 2022 as “poor/just getting along,” the mental health system has a long way to go before becoming accessible to carers.

Inefficiencies and service gaps in the mental health system also make it difficult for carers to fulfil their responsibilities to the people they care for. Many people requiring care, including those with mental illnesses, psychosocial disabilities, and substance issues, rely on finding and accessing suitable mental health treatment to heal and recover. The Productivity Commission reported that access to relevant and appropriate care is restricted or non-existent for those who need it because of factors like location, lack of information, and long wait times. When the mental healthcare system does not meet the needs of people receiving care, carers deal with the consequences: carers for people with autism spectrum disorders, mental illnesses, psychosocial disabilities and substance issues were found to have especially poor levels of wellbeing.

Ms Brook notes, “When we tell people experiencing mental ill-health that help is available, it needs to be true for everyone. This National Carers Week and beyond, Carers Australia is asking for a mental health system that carers for carers and anyone else who needs it.”

This National Carers Week, events will be held all over the country to support, celebrate and advocate for carers from Sunday 16 to Saturday 22 October 2022. There are millions of reasons to care about carers, and millions of ways to get involved in #nationalcarersweek. Find out more at www.carersweek.com.au

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