Therapy sessions will be free for French citizens starting in 2022

A step in the right direction.
A step in the right direction.
Image: Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool
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French president Emmanuel Macron announced on Sept. 28 that the government will cover the cost of therapy sessions for any citizen aged three and older,  as part of a broader initiative starting in 2022 to address mental health concerns.

“Mental health is a major issue that is insufficiently addressed in our country,” Macron said at a conference for psychology professionals. The president said he sees the new measure as a way to address a “historic demand” for therapy, and help citizens whose mental health is suffering “as soon as possible.”

Last week, the French government released a survey with several grim indicators of how the country has coped with the Covid-19 pandemic. The research, which surveyed 2,000 French residents starting in March 2020, found that 10% of respondents had suicidal thoughts over the course of the past year, double the usual number. They also reported higher levels of anxiety and depression—there were three lockdowns and many people were unable to leave their homes for more than an hour each day.

Who will benefit from free therapy?

The government will cover a €40 consultation to start, and seven additional visits at a rate of €30 thereafter, with the option to renew. Macron said it is not intended for anyone who can already afford therapy, nor psychologists who already charge well above these rates. Rather, he emphasized, the policy is intended to help mental health providers who aren’t currently making a decent living, and patients who cannot afford therapy visits unless prices are regulated.

In the most recent French government survey, conducted the first week of September, students and jobless people reported higher rates of suicidal thoughts over the past year than those who were working or retired, indicating who may be most in need of assistance like this.

The French government announced similar initiatives earlier this year for children and young adults aged 3 to 17, as well as university students. But the latter “chèque psy” reimbursement only reached 905 students between February and April, and psychologists complained that it was difficult to access.

Professionals in the field have similarly expressed concerns that this new policy may be bogged down by administrative hurdles. Patients can only receive the reimbursement with a medical prescription, for example, and one therapist told Le Figaro newspaper his patients are reluctant to confide in their doctors about mental health concerns.

Nevertheless, France will begin to catch up to some of its peers, such as the UK and Germany, in taking steps to address what has been described as a global mental health crisis.