Accessing mental health treatment

Sometimes depression or anxiety become issues that impact our daily lives. How do you know what’s ‘normal’ and what may signal the need for expert help? Your GP can assist you with a mental health treatment plan.

woman on bed with hands over eyes

Source: Getty Images/Tara Moore

  • You can access Federal Government's mental health care services through Primary Health Networks and the Better Access initiative
  • Mental Health Treatment Plan starts with a GP appointment
  • Immediate support is available through the Beyond Blue website
According to the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, in 2017-18, one in five Australians (20% or 4.8 million) reported having experience of dealing with significant mental health issues during their lives.

Over a quarter of a million were first-generation Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Despite heightened awareness of mental health issues today, practitioners believe many people are still reluctant to seek help.


There are two ways to access Federal Government mental health services.

1.     The Primary Health Networks (PHN)

2.     The Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners initiative

At a regional level, the Federal Government funds PHN to lead mental health and suicide prevention planning.

The Better Access initiative, is subsidised under Medicare, and designed to improve the treatment and management of mental illness within the community. 

Head of the Global and Cultural Mental Health Unit at Melbourne University, Professor Harry Minas says general practitioners should be the first point of contact for everyone seeking help.

He also acknowledges barriers stopping people from seeking mental health help, such as religious and cultural beliefs.

The level of stigma and shame attached to mental illness can be very high.
The Federal Department of Health have a dedicated program on mental health for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds called Multicultural Australia.  

Additionally, there is a separate programme, Assistance for Survivors of Torture and Trauma, that helps people deal with issues related to experiences of torture and trauma before arriving in Australia.

mental health, young man, anxiety
Young man sitting at kitchen table with hands on face Source: Getty Images/Aleli Dezmen

Professor Minas says it can be difficult for people to navigate the complex Australian mental health care system.

He says general practitioners are ready to help and are nowadays better trained to treat mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Your GP is your first point of contact.
Creating a Mental Health Treatment Plan starts with a conversation about how you’ve been feeling.

There's a simple  that can help you and your GP understand and assess the level of depression or anxiety you've been experiencing over the past four weeks.

Your general practitioner can help you fill in your checklist and will talk to you about how you are feeling in order to decide on a referral to a specialist.

A referral is needed from a GP to see a psychiatrist and to claim Medicare rebates.
If you have access to Medicare, you can visit a psychologist, social worker or occupational therapist for up to 10 individual or group appointments within a calendar year. It’s important to note that the sessions are subsidised by Medicare – but there is still a cost for each visit, and private practices set their own fees, like all medical specialists.

If you need more than 10 specialist visits in a calendar year, a general partitioner can recommend services available through the Primary Health Networks scheme.

mental health, senior patient, doctor counselling
Source: Getty Images

For people in rural and remote areas, the Better Access initiative facilitates access to mental health services through video conferencing.

According to Professor Minas, if you live in a small community, video conferencing is an easy way to get direct access to mental health centres without going through a general practitioner.

You can go directly to a community mental health centre.
If you need immediate support, the Beyond Blue website provides information across all States and Territories.

From the website you can choose to have a confidential call, chat or email with a trained mental health professional who can provide immediate help, information and advice.

If English isn’t your first language you can get free translation support from the Translating and Interpreting Service.

Beyond Blue’s services are available even if you do not have access to Medicare.

Online consultation, female doctor, Asian doctor
Online consultation with a female doctor of Asian background Source: Getty Images/Kilito Chan

For more information about mental health initiatives visit: 
For a directory of psychologists listed by language visit: 
To get support or for more information visit: 

4 min read
Published 22 May 2020 at 6:06pm
By Josipa Kosanovic