STARTLING new research has found people with a mental illness are having to choose between paying for treatment and putting food on the table.
The survey, conducted by respected mental health charity SANE Australia, found 96 per cent of respondents frequently have to make a choice between paying for medical treatment or basic essentials like food.
Nearly 40 per cent of people with mental illness have an annual income of less than $20,000 a year compared to the average Australian yearly income of nearly $60,000.
The findings are often an everyday reality for Dr Russell Roberts, Greater Western Area Health Service director of mental health, along with staff at Bloomfield Hospital in Orange.
“I think it’s a surprise for most people but its not a surprise for the people who work in the business,” Dr Roberts said yesterday.
“My sense is the figures are on the extreme but more or less represent the situation for a lot of our clients. We have cases where people are referred to a specialist and they have to save up with their mother for a month or two to come up with the $300 it might cost to get a specialist assessment.”
Patient treatment at public hospitals is free of charge however costs quickly add up for those needing specialist care or ongoing medication.
The SANE research concluded 17 per cent of respondents spent more than $100 a month on medication.
Over half of survey respondents could not afford private health insurance and had to rely on a credit card to make ends meet.
“Those figures are again a bit extreme but not unrealistic, most would spent $20 to $40 a month but if a script costs up to $32 and you need multiple ones that can add up to $120 a month,” Dr Roberts said.
“That’s a car payment for a lot of people.”
Dr Roberts said Bloomfield staff played a crucial role in helping patients manage the transition back to the community following treatment.
“They’re up there with the best in Australia,” he said.
The results have prompted SANE executive director Barbara Hocking to call for more government investment to avoid the mental ill becoming an underclass.
“We now have the appalling situation where people with mental illness are being forced to make really unenviable decisions,” she said.
“Why should people who are trying to cope with the distressing symptoms of mental illness also have to go without food to pay for essential treatment or remain unwell to put food on the table?”