Months-long waiting lists for patients mean Whanganui psychologists are facing a “sobering” reality for a crisis with no clear end in sight.
Registered psychologist Dr Kristen Hamling said she was being contacted “all the time” for appointments.
“It’s almost at the point now where you’ve got to know someone to see a psychologist - I get requested to see friends or friends of friends.”
New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists strategic adviser Dr Paul Skirrow said traditionally psychologists working in the public system had waiting lists but now private practitioners were also “absolutely overwhelmed”.
“We’re talking about people’s lives and families that are destroyed or young people who have real potential just not getting the support they need to live their lives.”
Skirrow said demand to see a psychologist had “massively gone up” over the past 10 years and had been exponentially increasing in the last three or four years.
Mild or very severe cases had a better chance of being seen faster but in the middle of these extremes people would struggle to access care, he said.
“If you’re extremely depressed but not suicidal, or suicidal but not currently trying to take your own life, you’re going to really struggle to get any help unless you’ve got money.
“And even if you have got money that doesn’t guarantee you getting in to see a psychologist now.”
The outlook for patients who could not book in to see a psychologist was “really sobering”.
“The chances are you’re going to end up getting worse and that’s absolutely what we don’t want for people, we want early treatment which means better outcomes.”
Hamling said her experience was that, because psychologists were inundated, people were becoming more unwell and getting to crisis point.
“It’s adding pressure to existing overwhelmed systems with the hospital and emergency department.”
LifeCo Psychology director Vicky Scott said their team of councillors, social workers and psychologists were “constantly busy” with wait lists that were months long.
“We do turn patients away, it’s stressful for us because it takes a lot of courage for someone to ring and ask for help.”
Scott said because placements for training were not always easy to obtain, it was reflected in the limited places in university for professional registration.
“It’s part of a national issue.”
Skirrow said traditionally the workforce recruited a lot of psychologists from overseas but Covid had halted this supply and since the borders had opened there had been psychologists leaving for better pay conditions overseas.
“We need more psychologists and we need more people trained in different types of therapies.”
Government investment in primary care had increased low-level support for mild anxiety and depression through general practitioners (GPs) supplying medication or counselling services.
Skirrow said there was a huge number of people taking medication for mental health issues when in some cases this was not nearly as effective as psychological treatment.
“But people can’t access psychological treatment because, obviously, you need to see a therapist.”