“I'm lucky to have good, trusting personal relationships with my multi-disciplinary health care team - including my perinatal psychiatrist, endocrinologist, pharmacist and GP, all of whom work closely with me regarding my mental health. I feel very well cared for and supported.”
Not all mental health problems need a diagnosis; they can be on a sliding scale of mild to severe. If you're experiencing symptoms of mental ill-health, there are things you can do yourself to address them. Talking to someone you know and trust can be very helpful. Focusing on self-care and finding peers who have gone through something similar are a few other options.
Seeking help can be an important step towards improving your mental health. If you would prefer to talk to a professional, there are many options, depending on your needs or preferences.
If you or someone you know is in immediate crisis and needs help now, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or 000.
Choosing a health professional
Head to Health doesn't list health professionals or offer clinical diagnoses, but we can point you to some of the best resources that provide detailed information and advice. We can also provide context around some of the health professionals that people often approach for medical and professional advice about their mental health and wellbeing. If you need to talk to a health professional in person for specific advice and assistance, use the National Health Services Directory to find professionals near you.
Types of professionals
A General Practitioner (GP) is a medically trained doctor that can give health advice, diagnose illnesses, prescribe medication (when needed), or refer people to a specialist for treatment. A GP might refer you to a psychiatrist or a psychologist if they think it's required.
A GP can also be a gateway to other specialists. They can prepare a Mental Health Treatment Plan for you. This plan will help you and your GP work out what services you need and decide on the best treatment options.
The Mental Health Treatment Plan also explains the support and responsibilities of each of the healthcare professionals working with you. This plan could include 12 subsidised sessions per year under the Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) program, or up to 10 subsidised sessions per year through the Better Access program. Any sessions after that are not subsidised by Medicare, and you will have to pay the full cost. Talking to your GP to understand what you're eligible for can help you decide your next steps.
Psychologists help people develop skills to manage their life issues and mental health problems. Generally, all psychologists use talking therapy, known as psychotherapy, to help you work through emotions that are troubling you or to make positive changes in the way you think or act. Psychologists can’t prescribe medications, but – with your consent – may refer you back to a doctor who can.
Psychologists may have their own private practice, but they can also work in schools, hospitals, organisations or community health centres. You can see a psychologist on your own, as a couple, or with family members.
If you have seen a GP first and have prepared a Mental Health Treatment Plan with them, then some or all psychologist’s fees will be covered by Medicare and you will pay less. The plan could include up to 10 subsidised sessions per year through the Better Access program. Talking to your psychologist about what you’re eligible for can help you decide your next steps. You could also choose to pay to see a psychologist privately.
A psychiatrist is a medically trained doctor who has specialised in understanding how the brain works to make us feel, think, and act the way we do. A psychiatrist can diagnose and treat people with mental illness. Psychiatrists use a range of treatments including medications, psychotherapy (also called talking therapy or psychological treatment), and practical advice about lifestyle and behaviour.
You might see a psychiatrist at a private office, in a psychiatric ward of a public hospital, at a private psychiatric hospital, or at a community mental health clinic.
If you have seen a GP first and have prepared a Mental Health Treatment Plan with them, then some or all psychiatrist's fees will be covered by Medicare and you will pay less. The plan could include up to 10 subsidised sessions per year through the Better Access program. Talking to your psychiatrist about what you're eligible for can help you decide your next steps.
Social workers support individuals, families, groups, and communities to improve their wellbeing. They can be found working in agencies such as hospitals, community health centres, schools, early intervention, justice, and family support services. Some social workers also work in private practice.
Accredited mental health social workers have extensive postgraduate training and experience in the field of mental health, and can offer a range of treatment and interventions, including counselling, skills training, and stress management. They can assist people facing issues such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and family conflicts.
Accredited mental health social workers are registered providers with Medicare Australia. If you have seen a GP first and have prepared a Mental Health Treatment Plan with them, they can provide services through the Commonwealth-funded Better Access to Mental Health Care Program and Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) Program. This could include up to 10 subsidised sessions per year.
Mental Health Nurses
Mental health nurses are registered nurses who specialise in caring for and working with people living with mental illness. They work alongside individuals – considering physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs to meet recovery goals.
The role of a mental health nurse is diverse. Their roles can vary from providing support when discussing your mental health with family, friends and health professionals, to providing more specialised support such as help with medications, provide counselling and strategies to help deal with symptoms/stresses. They also work together with other health professionals to ensure a holistic and coordinated approach to your health needs.
Mental health nurses practice in a variety of places. These places include, but are not limited to: mental health units, local health centres, nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals, and in the community.
Occupational Therapists (OTs) offer strength-based and goal-directed programs to help people participate in everyday activities. In mental health, they assist in developing skills to live more independently, manage stress and emotions more easily, link with community, manage self-esteem, develop communication skills, and structure daily life activities.
OTs can work in hospitals, community health centres, aged care facilities, mental health settings, workplaces, schools and universities, private practices, and correctional institutions, among many others. They can work independently or together with other health professionals.
Eligible OTs are covered by the Medicare rebate. If you have seen a GP first and have prepared a Mental Health Treatment Plan with them, or have been referred by a psychologist or psychiatrist, they can provide services through the Commonwealth-funded Better Access to Mental Health Care Program – where you can have part of the cost of up to 10 individual and 10 group sessions per year covered.
What can I expect?
Talking about your problems can be difficult, but it can also be the first step to making positive change. It may take time for you to open up, and that is okay. You can choose how much or how little you want to share. It's important that you feel comfortable with the person before sharing your thoughts with them.
Initial diagnoses are not always correct, and it is sometimes a case of trial and error with treatments and medications to get it right. There are lots of ways to improve your mental health and wellbeing, but it’s important to remember that it takes time and patience.
If you decide to seek professional support, it’s important that you find the right person to talk to. Whether you end up talking to a GP, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist, you can - and should - expect them to be respectful and non-judgemental. They are bound by an ethical code of conduct to keep your personal information confidential and to give the best advice for your health. But if they have reason to believe that you are at risk of harming yourself or someone else, they also have a duty of care to report this.
Keep in mind that there are a number of different health professionals apart from GPs, psychiatrists, and psychologists. If you want to explore other options, there are many to choose from; life coaches and counsellors are a few examples.
Seeking online support
Not everyone is comfortable talking to someone face-to-face, and that's okay. Online resources can be convenient, private and effective, and many are free as well. You can find websites with helpful information, use apps and programs to build skills and track progress, share stories in online forums, or talk to a professional through phone, chat, and email services.
If you're not sure exactly what you're looking for, Sam the chatbot can guide you in the right direction.
You might find online and phone-based mental health resources helpful. Some suggestions are below. You can find more with our Search tool (opens in a new tab).