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Italy’s residents can now claim a new ‘psychologist bonus’ (bonus psicologo) intended to help people struggling with the effects of the pandemic to access mental health services.
From Monday July 25th, applications can be made via the Italian social security office (INPS) website for vouchers worth €600 per person towards the cost of treatment.
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With a total fund worth €10 million, the vouchers are means tested and will be available on a first-come first-served basis until October 24th.
The patient must have an Isee (a calculation of relative household income and wealth) of under €50,000 to be eligible for the fund, which can be used when visiting professionals registered with Italy’s Albo degli psicologi (Register of Psychologists).
The funding was announced in February as part of the milleproroghe budget amendment bill, with Health Minister Roberto Speranza describing the improvement of mental health services in the country as “crucial”.
The bonus is set to be accompanied by an additional €10 million in funds aimed at strengthening existing health facilities and recruiting new mental health professionals.
The approval and implementation of the fund was welcomed by many politicians and prominent mental health experts as a step in the right direction for Italy, which is in the midst of a mental health crisis.
Some, however, were less impressed, as news outlets noted that the €10 million budget proposed for the psychologist bonus would benefit just 16,000 people; less than 0.0003 percent of Italy’s population of 59.5 million.
Italy was hit early and hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and – as in the rest of the world – people across the country have spent the last two years struggling to cope with the fallout.
There are now widespread reports of a mental health crisis in Italy affecting younger people in particular.
Recent studies show that an estimated one in four adolescents now has symptoms of clinical depression and one in five are showing signs of anxiety disorders.
In January 2021, the Bambino Gesù paediatric hospital in Rome reported a 30 percent increase in hospitalisations of children aged between 12 and 18 due to self harm after the first wave of Covid.
Meanwhile, mental health care provision in Italy varies significantly from one part of the country to another, as the healthcare system is decentralised: operating on a regional rather than a national level and administered by local health authorities (Aziende Sanitarie Locali, or Asl).
Italy’s local health authorities on average allocate just 3.2 percent to 3.3 percent of their budget to mental health, compared to upwards of 7 percent to 8.5 percent in places like Germany, France, and the UK, according to estimates made in 2020 by the Italian Society of Psychiatry.
Some Italian regions, however, are further ahead of the game than others.
In August 2020, Campania introduced a regional law granting all residents the right to be assigned a psicologo di base or ‘primary care psychologist’, the mental health equivalent of a GP, through their Asl.
Lombardy is now also set to follow Campania’s lead in establishing a network of a primary care psychologists, with Lombardy’s Regional Council reportedly voting unanimously in favour of the motion in January 2022.
See more information about claiming the ‘psychologist bonus’ on the INPS website here (in Italian) or speak to your accountant for assistance with claiming.