Navigating mental health support
Where to turn for help
21 March 2022
In 2020-21, 15% of Australians aged 16 to 85 experienced high levels of psychological distress, and 61% took actions to help manage their mental health[i]. And not surprisingly, burnout is one of the biggest health issues facing school staff today. The demands of working long hours, overloaded schedules, and always having to be there for others – whether in the classroom or at home – can really take their toll. Mental ill-health can happen to anyone, especially during times of uncertainty, so it’s important to know where to turn for support.
For emergency care – dial 000 (triple zero) if you need urgent assistance. If you or someone you know are feeling suicidal, have thoughts of self-harming, or are at immediate risk, you can visit your local emergency department and get help from a doctor or mental health professional.
Get support (the way you want it)
While our understanding of mental health is growing in Australia, it can be difficult to know where to turn for help. The good news is, there are now more mental health services than ever, offered by different health professionals in a variety of ways.
Employee Assistance Programs at work
A great place to start is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAPs are independent, confidential, and free (sigh of relief!) work-based programs designed to improve the emotional and psychological wellbeing of employees by addressing work-related or personal problems. There are lots of EAP providers who offer short-term professional counselling and advice – from phone or video chats to face-to-face appointments. If you work in a school, check the Department of Education website, or speak to HR at your school or other workplace for more info on your employer’s EAP.
Help online and over the phone
Getting help over the phone or online can be a great option – especially if you’re not overly comfortable speaking to someone face-to-face – as it’s convenient, private, and many services are free. There are apps and programs to help you manage things like anxiety and depression, and build skills such as mindfulness, resilience and reducing stress. You can often talk to a professional through chat and email via the websites. And because you’re not alone, you’ll also find support and strategies for coping in online forums. Respected organisations that offer these services include:
- Lifeline ph: 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue ph: 1300 22 4636
- Kids Helpline ph: 1800 551 800 (for people 5 – 25 years)
- Mental Health Line (NSW) ph: 1800 011 511
- MensLine Australia ph: 1300 78 99 78
- SANE Australia ph: 1800 187 263
- Suicide Call Back Service ph: 1300 659 467
Because sometimes nothing beats a face-to-face chat
If you want to speak to someone face-to-face (and it’s not an emergency), your GP is usually the first step. They can assess your needs and talk you through your options, which might include:
- Making a mental health assessment
- Creating a Mental Health Treatment Plan (which can give you Medicare rebates through the Better Access initiative)
- Referring you to a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or allied health professional (e.g. psychologist, social worker or occupational therapist)
- Giving you a prescription for medicines if you both agree that you’d benefit from medication (only GPs, psychiatrists and other doctors can prescribe medication).
What’s a Mental Health Treatment Plan?
If your doctor thinks you need help with your mental health, your Mental Health Treatment Plan will identify your needs and treatment options, outline the goals you want to achieve, and explain the support and responsibilities of the health professionals you choose to help you.
With a Mental Health Treatment Plan, you’re eligible for subsidised support from GPs and other medical practitioners, psychologists, social workers and OTs (rebates for psychiatrists are covered separately under Medicare) – so it can make getting the right treatment much more affordable. Medicare benefits are available for up to 10 individual and up to 10 group allied mental health services each year, so you’ll pay less or nothing. You can’t get Medicare rebates for all the sessions in one go. Your doctor or psychiatrist can refer you for up to 6 sessions at a time, then you need to see your doctor again for a mental health plan review.
Mental Health Treatment Plans are part of the Better Access Initiative. This allows everyone to access telehealth services (previously telehealth was only open to people who live in rural and remote areas). Ask your GP or mental health professional if they offer this service or search for mental health telehealth services on healthdirect.
Other mental health professionals
While your GP may be the first step if you’re struggling with your mental health, they might refer you to another health professional, including:
- Psychiatrists, who are doctors who specialise in understanding how the brain works. They can diagnose and treat people with mental illness using a range of treatments, including medications, psychotherapy, and practical advice about lifestyle and behaviour.
- Psychologists, who use talk therapy (psychotherapy) to help people develop skills to manage life issues and mental health problems. They can’t prescribe medications.
- Occupational therapists (OTs) in mental health, who help people live more independently, and manage stress, emotions and self-esteem.
- Mental health nurses, who are registered nurses who specialise in working with people living with mental illness. They can provide support such as help with medications, counselling, and strategies to deal with symptoms.
- Social workers, who help people and communities work through challenges. They can provide referrals to health and wellbeing services, and offer a range of support including counselling, skills training, and stress management[ii].
Finding the right mental health partner
It’s always important that you feel comfortable with your health professional – especially when it comes to your mental health, so think about things like whether they’re male or female, their specialties, language/s spoken, types of treatment, location, opening hours, and cost.
Some health professionals will use different types of counselling, and some will be able to prescribe medications. It’s important to find one, or a combination of professionals, that works for you. Remember you can always change your health professional – it takes some people several attempts to find someone they really connect with. Most types of health professionals must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Registration Agency.
Making it as affordable as possible
The cost of mental health treatment varies hugely – from free and subsidised services to (often) expensive specialist fees, and depends on the type of health professional you see. Health professionals set their own fee so it’s always a good idea to find out how much a service costs and what the Medicare benefit is before an appointment, so you know how much you’ll pay.
Medicare (through a Mental Health Treatment Plan) can subsidise the cost of mental health services, making it more affordable to get the help you need from a psychologist, OT or social worker. Any medications you need may be also be subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Check with your GP or health professional to see what you’re eligible for.
How health insurance can lighten the load
Your private health insurance can also help to cover the costs of mental health treatment.
If you need to be treated in hospital (as an inpatient), Hospital cover can help with psychiatric services including treatment and care for patients with psychiatric, mental, addiction or behavioural disorders. If you’re on Top Hospital (Gold), in-hospital psychiatric services are fully covered, whereas on other levels of cover, they’re restricted (meaning you’ll have some out-of-pocket expenses to pay). This is where it can be good to know about the Mental Health Waiver.
The Mental Health Waiver allows members who aren’t on Top Hospital (Gold) to upgrade their cover and be admitted to hospital without serving the usual two-month waiting period. To access the waiver (and claim towards immediate inpatient psychiatric treatment), you need to have already had restricted cover for hospital psychiatric services for at least two months. The waiver can be used by each person on a policy, but only once per person in their lifetime. To use the waiver, please call us on 1300 727 538.
In addition to Hospital cover, our Extras cover including Top Extras, Essential Extras and StarterPak (Basic Plus) lets you claim for psychology assessments and consults, and telepsychology (benefit limits apply).
For more info, the Commonwealth Ombudsman has a good summary of how private health insurance can help with psychiatric services, rehab and psychology.
Mental Wellness Program
As well as helping to cover the costs of mental health treatment (subject to your level of cover and available benefits), eligible Teachers Health members with Hospital cover may be able to access our Mental Wellness Program. This is based on an assessment of your needs to work out whether the program would be a suitable treatment option for you.
The Mental Wellness Program has two parts. There are mental wellness phone sessions with a mental health professional, tailored to you. And – because your diet and lifestyle can have such a big impact on how you feel – you also get nutrition phone consults with a Teachers Healthcare Services Accredited Practising Dietitian.
You're not alone
Remember, mental health challenges can happen to anyone at any time but there are many types of support available. Initial diagnoses aren’t always correct and it might take time (and patience) to find the right treatment and/or medications. But – as many people who’ve struggled with their mental health will tell you – with the right help, things can get so much better! The most important thing is to take that first step.