Government signs $16.4m deal for online mental health
A federally funded national online counselling service is on track to open by the end of the year after the government signed a three year $16.4 million contract with Sydney-based consortium Access Macquarie.
Known as the Virtual Clinic, the service will provide free real-time online or phone counselling with a trained psychologist in addition to automated self help programs. It will be aimed at people with mild to moderate anxiety and depression.
In a statement announcing the deal, minister for mental health Mark Butler said the the web portal will help reach a greater number of the one in five Australians currently experiencing a mental illness.
Citing the alarming statistic that less than half of these people seek, he noted stigma is a major reason people can be discouraged from getting help. “This gives people an alternative to face-to-face services, providing an easy way of taking the first step to deal with a mental health issue,” he said.
The Virtual Clinic is one of the main initiatives announced as part of the national e-Mental Health Strategy which is intended to help address the growing burden on mental illness on Australia’s health system.
Earlier this week the Australian Institute of Welfare released figures showing spending on mental health-related services increased by an average of 4.5 percent per year between 2005-2010.
Additionally, more than 22 million government-subsidised prescriptions for mental health-related medications were filled in 2010–11, accounting for more than 10 percent of all subsidised prescriptions.
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