Depression therapy likely

There is a ‘‘huge chance'' therapy for sufferers of mild to moderate depression will be free nation-wide within two years, the Ministry of Health has  revealed .

Ministry director of mental health Dr David Chaplow said free therapy services had been trialled in a pilot programme over 61 of the country's 82 primary health organisations (PHOs).

The trial allows people presenting to their doctors with mild to moderate depression the chance to access up to six sessions of free counselling, as an alternative to antidepressant drugs.

But before it could be rolled out nation-wide, the pilot programme needed to be evaluated, Dr Chaplow said.

‘‘And that is something we have been working on. It's a priority for us, and it is part of our service. It's what we have signed up to do.''

The ‘‘talking therapies'' had always been available and publicly funded for ‘‘more complex cases'' of mental illness, Dr Chaplow said.

The news comes after this week's Hull University study, which found antidepressants worked little better than placebos for many people.

New Zealand's drug-buying agency Pharmac spent nearly $28 million last year on the drugs.

The study suggested therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy be used as a first treatment option for sufferers of mild to moderate depression.

Clinical psychologist and senior lecturer at Canterbury University, Dr Janet Carter said it was almost impossible at present to get patients publicly-funded therapy in New Zealand.

If a patient with mild depression came to a psychologist but said the associated fee was a financial barrier, there were few options open to them, she said.

‘‘ . . . in the public system, generally, I wouldn't know where to send them.''

That situation forced many patients to turn to publicly funded antidepressant drugs.

‘‘For many people they will make an antidepressant choice, because it is a lot more affordable. And absolutely we should be funding [the talking therapies].''

Consultant psychiatrist and University of Otago senior lecturer Dr Sunny Collings said health practitioners calling for funding to be balanced between drugs and therapy were ‘‘a lone voice among the pharmaceutical companies''.

But he cautioned a blanket ‘‘talking therapy'' funding provision would be too expensive, and would fail to target individual patients effectively.


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