Budget 2018: Free counselling for 18 to 25-year-olds to start on pilot basis

Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter.
Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter. Photo credit: Newshub.

The Government has set aside $10 million to pilot free counselling for 18 to 25 years olds.

The pilot programme is the first step in making counselling free for all under-25s, a key promise Labour made to the Greens in its confidence and supply arrangement.

There is currently free counselling available through DHBs and some doctors, but waiting lists can be prohibitively long. There's also a free National Telehealth Service (call or text 1737) and schools, universities and employers often provide services.

But it's widely acknowledged mental health services have been under increasing demand and have become increasingly difficult to access.

The money will be rolled out over four years.

So far, details on the pilot scheme are scant - basically, we don't know how many people it's expected to provide services for, where it will be based or whether it will be contracted to an organisation.

We do know it will get $2 million in 2018/19, increasing to $4 million in 2019/20 and $4.5 million in 2020/21.

The Greens' Julie Anne Genter, who is Associate Minister for Health, said the funding means now the money is secured, work can start on the detail of the pilot.

"This is a great first step. It's fantastic, because we don't have to wait until the end of the mental health review to ensure that this commitment is going to be prioritised. We can start work on it before they report back."

"We've secured the money for four years but I expect we would be wanting to deliver on a greater basis before that."

The Mental Health Foundation believes free and low-cost counselling should be more widely available and accessible than it currently is.

For people who don't fit a GP's criteria, private therapy can cost about $80-$200 a hour.