How to access mental health treatment

One of the things that I have noticed about the gap between awareness and treatment is that a lot of people don’t know how to access that treatment.  I’ve been dealing with the system for 12 years and I am still figuring things out!  These tips are for Australia, however if you speak to your GP you may be able to find out what is available in your area.

How do I access treatment for my mental illnessUsually, the public system is the first port of call.  It’s not the easiest place to get specialised treatment, but sometimes it is the only place that people are able to access.  However, unlike other specialist areas, you can self refer to a mental health service, at least as an adult.  This can be done by presenting to an emergency department, or calling the crisis number which is connected to your local hospital.  Not all hospitals have this the crisis number though, so sometimes presenting to your Emergency Department can be the only way.

Once you are at the ED, they will usually put you in touch with the crisis team attached to the hospital district.  This will either be at the hospital, or in a neighbouring town.  In my experience, this is either done in person or by phone.  A follow up appointment with them can be made, as well as seeing a doctor who is attached to the crisis team.  It is during this appointment that it will be determined what you need and if the service is able to offer it to you.

There are also subsidies available for you to be able to see a psychologist either for no cost or a reduced rate.  For these services a referral from a GP is needed.  You will need to make an appointment yourself, but the referral from your GP will need to be either sent to the provider or taken along to your first appointment.  This will vary from practice to practice so it’s best to ask them when you are making the appointment.

Through Medicare, a Mental Health Plan can be obtained, this will need to be written by your GP.  A Mental Health Plan gives you 10 subsidised (which is nowhere near enough but that’s a post for another day) sessions per calendar year to a registered mental health professional.  It can be used for one on one treatment or group therapy.  Some practices will bulk bill you for the duration of your mental health plan or some with charge you the full amount, and you will have to claim the subsidy back through medicare.  Most practices have the ability to put that claim in through their office.

Also available is a program called ATAPS.  This funding is available for people who are unable to access treatment due to financial difficulty.  It is through Medicare Local and enables you to access up to 18 sessions with a registered mental health professional.  Unlike the Mental Health Plan, professionals only have a set number of spaces available to fill with ATAPS clients.  The practice must also be registered with Medicare Local to provide this service.

Medicare also offers subsidised sessions for appointments with a Psychiatrist.  Like with a psychologist, a referral from your GP is needed.  The subsidy can be claimed either at the office of the psychiatrist or at a medicare office.  Through Medicare a patient is able to claim up to 50 sessions in a calendar year.  From July 2011 these subsidies were also extended to video sessions for patients in rural and remote areas.

Of course all of these services can be covered if you have private health insurance.  I don’t have private health insurance, so I’m not sure how many sessions will be covered or how the payment works.  However if you call your private health fund, or speak to the receptionist at your mental health professional’s office, I am sure they will be able to break it down for you.

Treatment is available, not enough of it is accessible and we have a long way to go.  However I hope that this post has been helpful if you find yourself or a loved one in mental distress and unsure where to go next.

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