Settlement Guide

Settlement Guide: How to access mental health services in Australia

Often, we can address a bad or a time-consuming pattern of behaviour and throw it in the bin, writes Helen Razer. Source: Getty Images

Building culturally responsive mental health services is an essential part of assisting the settlement process for many refugees.

Refugees are at greater risk of developing mental health problems than the general Australian population. And the stigma surrounding mental illness, lack of awareness about available services and lack of English proficiency can make it harder to access mental health services.

Here are some steps to finding better mental health care.

Visit your GP

Your first point of contact should be your GP who can assess your condition and prepare a “Mental Health Treatment Plan” for you. You can be referred to certain Medicare mental health services, such as psychiatrists, once you have a GP “Mental Health Treatment Plan” in place.

 Doctor with patient in hospital
Doctor with patient in hospital
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Medicare rebates

Medicare rebates are available for selected mental health services, provided by general practitioners, psychiatrists, psychologists, eligible social workers and occupational therapists.  Depending on your health care needs, following the initial course of six treatment sessions you can return to your GP or psychiatrist for a new referral for an additional four sessions.

Medicare Debate

Am I eligible?

You are eligible if you have a Medicare card and if you’ve been assessed with a mental disorder. The government’s Better Access to mental health care initiative is available to "patients with an assessed mental disorder who would benefit from a structured approach to the management of their treatment needs".

There are however exceptions to who is covered under this initiative. Read more about eligibility here

If you need to find more information regarding your eligibility, claiming and the payment processes you can call Medicare Australia on 132 011 or visit Medicare.

Do I have access to interpreters?

Interpreter in Health sector
Interpreter in Health sector

Talking about sensitive health issues in a language that’s not your mother tongue is not ideal. However, medical professionals recommend not relying on your family members to interpret, as that can be problematic.

This is why there are interpreters available. Your medical practitioners have access to interpreters through the telephone interpreting service for both telephone and onsite interpreters, so it would be expectation that the practice utilise that service in order to get the best healthcare outcome for you.

Torture and trauma counselling services

Refugee and migrant mental health in Australia
Refugee and migrant mental health in Australia.

If you have experienced torture and trauma which continues to impact on your life, there are special counselling services available for you.  STTARS is the Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Service assisting people from a refugee and migrant background who have experienced torture or been traumatised as a result of persecution, violence, war or unlawful imprisonment prior to their arrival in Australia.  STTARS offers a weekly mental health clinic allowing you to access to psychiatric services in a community setting.

Other community based services

Migrant Refugee Resources
Migrant Refugee Resources

Your community and social connections are important for good mental health. There are several community-based services available to assist you. For example the Migrant Resource Centre in Liverpool, a NSW-run group-based information session for new arrivals around the adjustment process and mental health in general, trying to build up understanding of it.

“Like the Partners in Recovery local service which can assist part the recovery process,” says LMRC client service manager Olivia Nguy. 

“We know that the experiences in a place like Australia, when people are seeking asylum and while they wait for the outcome of their refugee application to be processed, can have really negative consequences for their mental health says” Asylum Seeker Resource Centre client service manager Samantha Ratnam.

There are special programs including pro bono counselling are available to you if you are experiencing high levels of psychological distress.  You can also get referrals for psychiatric assessment and treatment programs.

Australia's Humanitarian Settlement Services program (HSS) also provides practical support to humanitarian entrants for up to a year after arrival.

Useful links:

For more information about mental health initiatives in your language visit: Mental Health in Multicultural Australia 

Refugee Week 18 - 24 June 

World Refugee Day 20 June 

Settlement Services International (NSW) 

Liverpool Migrant Resource Center

Asylum Seeker Resource Center 

Asylum Seeker Resource Center's Telethon for World Refugee Day