French health system to offer free psychologist sessions

French president Emmanuel Macron has announced that sessions with a therapist or psychologist will come under the free state health system for the first time.

French health system to offer free psychologist sessions
Counselling sessions will be reimbursed on the carte vitale. Photo: Denis Charlet/AFP

Previously, the majority of people who required help with mental health had to pay for their own sessions, but from 2022 these can be reimbursed under the French state health insurance via the carte vitale.

In April, Macron brought in a ‘chèque psy‘ package for young people suffering from the effects of the pandemic and lockdown.

Announced on Tuesday, there are still some details yet to be revealed about the reimbursement, but people will need to be referred for help by their GP or family doctor.

The sessions are available for anyone over the age of three and will be reimbursed at a rate of €40 for a first consultation and then €30 per session.

The current cost of sessions varies by area and specialism, but is on average €50.

Sessions will come in “packages”, suggesting there would be a limit on the number of sessions.

“It is a renewable package but we have not yet defined how many. That will be discussed,” added the Health Ministry.

The announcement was part of a package of measures agreed at a mental health conference including a national suicide-prevention hotline, first aid training in mental health and the creation of 800 new hospital posts in areas where waiting lists are long.

At present stays in a psychiatric hospital or treatment by a psychiatrist for illnesses such as schizophrenia are covered by the state health insurance, but people who require therapy in the community for issues including mild depression and anxiety must pay for them.

Despite this, one third of French people have consulted a psy, according to a 2017 YouGov poll.

There are 80,000 registered mental health practitioners in France, including 20,000 community-based psychologists. According to 2015 statistics from the EU, France has 84 psychologists per 100,000 inhabitants, nearly three times more than the UK which has 32.

Mental health help in France is generally through either a psychologist or a psychoanalyst, the practice of counselling is less well known.

EXPLAINED How to access mental health help in France

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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.