Leonie Young, CEO of beyondblue, writes:

This Wednesday will be the start of something new. A radical approach to mental health care that will allow many thousands of people access to the sort of care they need, at the time they need it, and at a price they can afford.

The problem is stark. Too few people with depression and anxiety get treatment at all – in 2007 only about 40 per cent of Australians with a current mental health disorder sought treatment. And too few are getting the right help – in that same year, only 45 per cent of those who sought help were offered a treatment that could have helped them, according to the ABS National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing.

The funding of national programs such as Better Access and Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) has increased the range of treatments available under Medicare. But programs such as these have their critics, with access to some forms of care, especially in rural areas, limited.

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Improving access to treatment, and improving the appropriateness of the treatment offered, is important for so many people in so many ways. People will feel better, function better and have better relationships. We’ll have stronger communities and a better society.

On Wednesday in Melbourne, we’re hosting the first national Community Access Program forum, at which 100 or so mental health professionals, consumers, policymakers and others will discuss the approach we believe will radically change mental health care in this country.

The community Access Program is drawn from experience in the UK, where the Improved Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) has made a substantial difference.

Professor David Richards, Professor of Mental Health Services Research, University of Exeter, and Laurie Bryant, UK National Service User Adviser, IAPT, will talk about their experience.

The IAPT program has been running since 2005. It mainly offers cognitive behaviour therapy, and people who are identified as needing other treatments are referred to mental health professionals for high intensity treatments. The program has shown impressive results, with half of those completing the program recovering from depression or anxiety, and the remaining recovering within 10 months. These results are comparable to clinical outcomes from high intensity treatments.

Importantly, the IAPT program has allowed about four times as many people to be seen as those who would be seen by traditional face-to-face therapy with similar time and funding.

Recently, beyondblue has examined the feasibility of an Australian program based on the successful UK program. The concept of such a program was overwhelmingly supported by consumers, health professionals, directors of mental health, peak organisations and academics. In particular, there was agreement on the need for such a program in rural and remote areas, where the Better Access initiative has limited reach.

Based on the feasibility study, beyondblue has developed an Australian IAPT model, the beyondblue Mental Health Community Access Program (bbCAP). It will offer easily accessible and affordable low intensity mental health services, such as an e-mental health portal of internet-based resources and CBT.

This is just the beginning. bbCAP needs to be trialled more thoroughly, in different centres, in different ways, to make sure that the concepts apply to Australian conditions.

But it feels to us, after a decade of raising awareness, like we’re overdue for this next step.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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