Here’s how to navigate the system to get subsidised mental health care

About 45 percent of Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Treatment can save lives and it doesn’t always cost the Earth – or anything at all. It’s about knowing what services are around and what questions to ask.

Here's where you start...

Your first port of call is a GP. If you go to a bulk-billing GP, it’s free. Here’s a directory to find one near you.

The GP will ask you questions about symptoms you might be experiencing to determine if you’re eligible to use the Better Access scheme. If you’re diagnosed with a mental health condition such an anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis, or a number of others, you’re eligible. Under the scheme, you can access mental health practitioners like psychiatrists and social workers through Medicare – this could save you a heap of money.

The GP will put together a Mental Health Care Plan for you.

What's a Mental Health Care Plan? 

An MHCP summarises what you discussed with your GP, maps some goals, and entitles you to Medicare rebates for up to 10 sessions per year with some allied mental health services (e.g. psychologists, occupational therapists, social workers).

You don’t need to use the service that the GP recommends. You can use the search tool from beyondblue to locate mental health professionals near you. If there’s someone in particular you want to see, let your GP know. You’ll need the GP to write a referral letter. Don’t forget to ask if they can refer you to someone who bulk-bills. If bulk-billing isn’t available for the service you want, ask what the out-of-pocket costs will likely be.

What happens next?

It is then over to you to make an appointment for your first session.

If you see a psychologist, they will usually space these sessions out over the year based on your needs. After you have had six sessions out of your allocated 10 for the calendar year, your psychologist will write to your GP to update them on treatment. You then need to see your GP again for a MHCP review so you can get your remaining four sessions for the year.

Depending on your financial situation and what your health care provider recommends, when your 10 sessions run out, you may be entitled to more discounted sessions.

The other thing to keep in mind is that sometimes the first mental health professional that you see might not be the right fit for you. It is entirely up to you if you continue to see this professional, or chose to see another one and use the remaining sessions that you have left for that year with them.

Dr Kathryn Fletcher is a clinical psychologist and postdoctoral research fellow at Swinburne University of Technology.