Mental health disorders are one of the biggest contributors to the global burden of disease, with mental illness and suicide costing Australia a conservative $600 million every day.
Australian Bureau of Statistics research released last month found more than two in five Australians aged 16-85 years - or 8.6 million people - have experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime.
So how are we responding to this? The same way we have been responding for years – by prescribing antidepressants.
More Australians are taking antidepressants than ever before with prescription rates doubling over the past decade. In the year ending 30 June 2020, 4.7 million antidepressants were issued in Australia.
Today, around one in seven Australian adults take antidepressants daily and Australia has the second highest per capita use of antidepressants of all OECD countries, behind Iceland.
Surely, we owe it to our community to investigate alternative therapies to combat these debilitating mental health disorders?
At HIF our goal is to ensure our members have choice and access to the best cover to suit their lifestyle and we recognise that sometimes, in order to do that, we need to think outside the square.
In February this year, Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research in Baltimore, USA, released findings of a study showing treatment using psilocybin was a promising therapeutic approach that could lead to significant and durable improvements in depression.
Other studies in the US have found MDMA, when paired with counselling, can bring marked relief in just hours for patients with severe PTSD.
We are seeing really promising results come out of clinical trials in the US. Compared to standard antidepressants, which people can take for years, psilocybin has the potential to relieve the symptoms of depression over a longer period of time with one or two treatments.
It suggests to us there is a big incentive for investment in these emerging therapies, especially if it means better overall health outcomes and saving on treatment costs up front.
Collectively as an industry, we need to listen to the experts and become familiar and comfortable with how these emerging therapies can work in our system.
HIF was the first major Australian health fund to publicly declare support for medicinal cannabis treatments and offer rebates to members through its partnership with WA-based Little Green Pharma, Australia’s medical cannabis pioneer.
The partnership reflects increasing community interest and scientific evidence supporting the potential benefits medicinal cannabis can have on the lives of Australians who are suffering from numerous debilitating health conditions.
Since legal access to medicinal cannabis was granted in 2016, nearly 250,000 scripts have been written to treat conditions including cancer pain, chronic pain, sleep disorders, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
As insurers, we have a huge incentive, and a responsibility, to fervently pursue the benefits of emerging therapies to deliver better health outcomes and long-term savings to the community.
Click here to read the full opinion piece as featured in The West Australian.