First patient survey on mental health initiative

Dr Gomathi Sitharthan, a senior lecturer in Psychology from the Faculty of Health Sciences and Honorary Professor in Psychiatry, Raj Sitharthan from the Sydney Medical School, are inviting anyone who has seen a psychologist in the past two years to participate in an online survey.

“There is good evidence to that access to mental health care has improved,” Dr Sitharthan said.

“While more people have access to care, we would like to know from the consumer’s point of view what difference the treatment made.

“This University of Sydney study is the first to look at what kind of expectations people had before they saw a psychologist and perhaps most importantly, if they were satisfied with the treatment they received,” she said.

The survey – which takes 30 to 40 minutes to complete – asks for example, about the frequency and length of sessions, if an assessment was conducted and results revealed, what were the most and least helpful aspects of the consultations, and if the patient felt confidence in the psychologist’s approach and methods.

It is hoped the survey will attract 2500 respondents within one year. It will be closed if this target is met earlier.

“We are as interested in the experiences of people who stopped treatment or changed practitioners as we are in those who attended all the sessions made available to them under the scheme,” Honorary Professor Raj Sitharthan said.

“This research provides an important opportunity for those with first-hand experience of this federal mental health initiative to have their say,” he said.

According to the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, almost 7.3 million Australians – around 45 per cent of the population aged between 16 and 85 years old – will experience a common mental health related condition such as depression, anxiety or a substance use disorder in their lifetime.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability in the nation.

Honorary Professor Sitharthan said everyone pays a price for mental health. 

“Whether the incidence of mental health conditions are associated with problems such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse, the social and economic costs to the individual, their family and friends, and the wider community can be enormous and long term.

“Our findings will help to develop more effective health care policies that better meet the needs of the community. They will also provide psychologists with valuable insights about their practices,” he said.

The Better Mental Health Care initiative began in November 2006. It was introduced by the Commonwealth government to address the low treatment rates for high prevalence mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, particularly for people presenting with mild to moderate severity where short term intervention is most likely to be useful.

This University of Sydney study, Expectations and Experiences of consumers seeking assistance from Psychologists/Clinical Psychologists, builds on earlier work by Dr Gomathi Sitharthan and Honorary Professor Raj Sitharthan. This has included investigating the expectations and experiences of people seeking assistance for substance abuse problems, improving doctor-patient communication, and clinical workforce training.  

Interviews: Dr Gomathi Sitharthan t 9315 9584, [email protected]

Honorary Professor Raj Sitharthan m 0411 286 109, [email protected]

Media liaison: Jenny Eather m 0478 303 173, [email protected]