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HEALTH

UPDATE: How to access mental health services in France

On World Mental Health Day, we take a look at how to access mental health services in France - and what changes will come into place in 2022.

A man sits depressed during a mental health consultation. The Covid-19 pandemic has put us all under mental strain.
Accessing mental health services in France can be difficult. Read our guide on how to navigate this system and changes on the horizon. (Credit: Nik Shuliahin/Unsplash)

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a mental toll on people around the world. France is no exception. 

According to a study conducted by French health authorities in September: 15 percent of French people are depressed (up 5 percent from pre-pandemic levels); 23 percent are anxious (up 10 percent); and 10 percent have had suicidal thoughts over the course of the year (up 5 percent). 

Accessing partially reimbursed or fully reimbursed mental healthcare in France can be difficult. Soaring demand coupled with a lack of staffing (close to a third of positions in public mental health hospitals are unfilled) means that waiting lists can be long. But there are ways to get help.

Accessing mental health services

The easiest way to book an appointment with a psychiatrist is through the Doctolib website. It is possible to filter your search for English-speaking clinicians. 

READ ALSO: How to get a carte vitale in France and why you need one

If you have a carte vitale it is possible to have partial or full reimbursement for psychiatric treatment in France. If booking an appointment online, be sure to check whether the doctor is conventionné secteur 1 to get the highest level of reimbursement possible.

You can read an approximate guide to current reimbursement levels HERE.

Psychologists (who are unable to prescribe drugs) are not considered doctors in France and therefore consultations with this kind of practitioner are rarely reimbursed. However, you may be able to access both psychological and psychiatric treatment if you can get an appointment in a Medical Psychology Center (centre medico psychologique – CMP). These services are free but often require a referral letter from a GP.

Counselling is another option. Generally less qualified than psychologists or psychiatrists, counsellors can provide a simple form of listening therapy. Anne Poulton, a retired professional counsellor with an NHS Community Mental Health team, set up the Counselling in France website after moving to France with her husband in 2000. It serves as a directory for English-speaking counsellors who may be able to help you. These services are not covered by social security.

READ ALSO: Health insurance in France – what you need to know about a mutuelle

Private mental healthcare will only be reimbursed if you have a private insurance (mutuelle) which specifically covers this kind of healthcare. It is however, easier to get an appointment quickly if you go down this route. 

Upcoming changes

In September, President Macron made a number of announcements that should significantly improve access to mental health services from an unspecified date in 2022. 

Psychological consultations will finally be at least partially reimbursed by the state – although you will need to have a recommendation letter from a GP to benefit from this.

For everyone with a carte vitale, the state has promised to cover ten psychological consultations at the price of €40 each. These ten consultations can be renewed once. After that, patients will continue to receive reimbursement, to the tune of €30 per session. 

READ ALSO: What your French health insurance card entitles you to

The French government intends to spend €50 million to cover these costs in 2022 and a further €100 million in 2023. 

CMPs are to employ a further 800 staff, which will help to absorb some of the demand for free mental healthcare. 

The government has also promised to invest €80 million in neuroscience research in a bid to find better treatments to the country’s mental health crisis. 

Helplines

SOS Helpline offers a telephone listening service in English – 01 46 21 46 46

The UK-based Samaritans can be accessed from France – 0044 8457 909090

If you are experiencing domestic violence you can call (English-speakers may not always be available) or report online HERE.

The British Consulate is able to advise you on various treatment options available but cannot give clinical advice on individual mental problems – 01 44 51 31 00

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TRAVEL NEWS

Paxlovid, tests and isolation: Covid care for tourists in France

With travel opening up, many people are planning trips to France over the next few months, but the Covid pandemic has not gone away. Here are your questions answered on testing, isolation and medical treatment if you do fall sick while on holiday.

Paxlovid, tests and isolation: Covid care for tourists in France

Travel rules

Covid-related travel rules have mostly been relaxed now but you will still need to show proof of being fully vaccinated at the French border. If you are not vaccinated you will need to show a negative Covid test – find the full breakdown of the rules HERE.

Testing

Once in France if you develop symptoms or you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive you will need to get a Covid test.

The good news is that testing is widely available in France, both for residents and tourists.

The easiest way to get a test is head to a pharmacy, most of which offer the rapid-result antigen test on a walk-in basis Tests are available to everyone who wants one, there is no need to fulfill any set criteria.

For full details on how to get a test, and some handy French vocab, click HERE.

The difference for tourists is that you will have to pay for your test, while residents get their costs reimbursed by the French state health system.

In the pharmacy you may be asked for your carte vitale – this is the health card that residents use to claim refunds. As a tourist you won’t have the card – you can still get the test, you will just need to pay for it. Costs vary between pharmacies but are capped at €22 for an antigen test or €54 for a PCR test.

Isolation

If your test is positive you are legally required to isolate, but how long your isolation period is depends on the your vaccination stats – full details HERE.

Treatment

For most fully-vaccinated people without underlying health conditions the symptoms of Covid are fairly mild, but if you do become ill, here’s how to access medical help while in France.

Pharmacy – one of the first things you will notice about France is that pharmacies are everywhere, just look out for the green cross. As well as selling over-the-counter medication, pharmacies all have at least one fully-qualified pharmacist on the staff who can offer medical advice. 

Take advantage of pharmacists – they train for at least six years so they’re very knowledgeable and they’re easy to access by simply walking into the shop. In tourist areas it’s likely that they will speak English. Pharmacists can also signpost you to a nearby doctor if you need extra help.

Doctors – if you need to see a doctor, look out for a médecin généraliste (a GP or family doctor). There is no need to be registered with a doctor, simply call up and ask for an appointment if you need one. If you have a smartphone you can use the medical app Doctolib to find a généraliste in your area who speaks English. You will need to pay for your consultation – €25 is the standard charge and you pay the doctor directly using either cash or a debit card.

You may be able to claim back the cost later on your own health/travel insurance depending on the policy.

Ambulance – if you are very sick or have difficulty breathing you should call an ambulance – the number is 15. All non-residents are entitled to emergency treatment in France, whether or not you have insurance, but if you are admitted or have treatment you may need to pay later.

READ ALSO Emergency in France: Who to call and what to say

Paxlovid – several readers have asked whether the Covid treatment drug Paxlovid is available in France. It was licenced for use in February 2022 and is available on prescription from pharmacies, mainly for people with underlying health conditions or an impaired immune system. You can get a prescription from a medical practitioner.

The drug is reimbursed for French residents, but as a tourist you will have to pay.

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