Published on July 30th, 2013 | by Joanna Holman and Jen Sparks

The Logistics of Getting Mental Health Care Help in Australia

Note from the Editor: Wyn is a global publication with contributors and readers from all over the world. We’re working on a series of articles about the Logistics of Getting Help in various countries. This first installment concerns getting help for mental health care in Australia. If you can help us cover the process for getting help in Canada, the UK, the United States, and other English-speaking locations, please email us!

Where to start getting help

Some counsellors and psychologists will take new clients without a referral. However, it’s better to start with your General Practitioner for an initial assessment. In addition to being able to direct you to the most appropriate specialist, he or she is able to create a mental health plan which entitles you to six to ten sessions of Medicare-subsidised sessions with a mental health professional.

If you don’t want to start with a doctor, Beyond Blue has a directory of mental health professionals. The directory includes the option to refine your search by specialty.

If you are a university student or staff member, your university may have a health and wellbeing department which provides free or subsidised counselling and support services. They will be very used to dealing with issues common in the university environment.

How private health cover works with mental health care

Depending on your needs, the Medicare rebate provided under mental health plans may be sufficient. If Medicare is insufficient, some private health insurance plans do provide additional coverage for mental health treatment. However, depending on your provider, this may only be covered in more expensive extras plans (such as this example from Medibank).

If you have or are considering getting a plan that covers mental health treatment, watch out for clauses around things such as waiting periods before you can claim on new policies, limits on the amount you can claim, and gap payments.

If you are eligible for a healthcare card through receiving some Centrelink payments or being low income, it is worth getting one, as that may entitle you to higher subsidies with your doctor and mental health care provider.

What types of mental health care are available?

A number of different types of mental health therapists are available. For a more detailed look at your options, see Kristen Kansiewicz’s article How to Find The Right Mental Health Care Professional.

You can also find further details about the types of care available and how to connect with those care providers on this Mental Health Support page from Bupa.

General Practitioners are able to provide an initial assessment and make referrals. They can also provide advice about lifestyle changes in relation to things like diet and exercise that may be helpful.

Counsellors are able to help you explore the issues that are concerning you and help you develop positive coping strategies. Qualifications held by counsellors can vary widely from certificate/diploma level through to advanced postgraduate degrees, so it is worth checking the qualifications and experience of a counsellor you are considering. You often won’t need a referral, although a referral might make it possible for you to receive Medicare subsidies for your care.

Psychiatrists have the training and authority to prescribe mental health medication if required. You will most likely need a referral to see a psychiatrist.

Social workers may also have some role in mental health issues if these are part of broader life challenges.

Mental health nurses can also help in a hospital or an inpatient treatment setting.

Non-profits that offer free help and counselling

For crisis phone counselling, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat online with a Lifeline counsellor. If you are a child or teenager, you can also call Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800. Both services are free.

Relationships Australia provides services such as counselling, family dispute resolution, and family and community support and education programs.

If you or someone you know are experiencing severe mental health symptoms that put someone’s physical safety at risk, call an ambulance on 000.

Photo by Ned Horton via Stock.Xchng.

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