Navigating the Mental Health System

Posted on December 1, 2011 at 12:40 AM

Navigating the Mental Health System

For the next little while I will be posting a series of articles to help you find your way around the mental health system. These will eventually be collected together into a "Navigating the Mental Health System" section for the website. Check back regularly for information on how to get the services that you need, and don't forget to email if there is a topic you would like to know about.

Part 1 - How do I get a referral to a psychologist?

As of the 1st of November 2011any individual who is experiencing mental health issues may be eligible for up to 10 sessions of treatment with a psychologist. These sessions are available over the calendar year (so, you could have 10 sessions any time from the 1st of January, 2012 until the 1st of January, 2013).

You will need a referral from a GP, psychiatrist or paediatrician. Most people choose to be referred via their GP. The referral your GP gives you is called a “Mental Health Care Plan”.

Some helpful things to remember

You can make it easier for yourself and your GP by calling before hand and confirming that they can provide a mental health care plan, and request a long appointment.

If you are requesting a referral to a specific psychologist, you will need the following information –

Name of Psychologist

Name of Practice

Address of Practice

Telephone Number

Medicare Provider Number

Registration Number

If you are unsure of any of these details, just ask the psychologist. They should be able to provide them to you, and maybe able to phone them through to your GP. If you don’t know who to see don’t worry, your GP should be able to provide you with a referral.

 What will happen in the appointment?

You GP will ask you a series of questions about your condition. They need to know about any changes to your mood, appetite and sleep. They will usually ask you about physical symptoms. Sometimes they will administer a brief questionnaire – this helps them get a better picture of what has been happening for you.

Sometimes when people are under stress they notice that they gamble more, drink more alcohol, or may use other substances to help themselves feel better. It is important to let your GP know if this has been happening so that they can refer you to the right person.

Your GP may also ask if you have been having any thoughts about hurting yourself, or about hurting anyone else –these are very normal thoughts when you are unwell or in a difficult situation. If this has been happening for you, it is important that you let your GP know so that they can provide you with extra support.

What then?

After you see your GP, you can contact your psychologist and make an appointment. It’s best to contact them as soon as possible as there is often a waiting list. If you are really struggling let them know – they may be able to help you find some alternative support until your first session.

If your psychologist bulk bills then you will not need to pay for your sessions. If they charge above the Medicare rebate, you will need to pay the full amount and then take the receipt to a Medicare office to be reimbursed.

Some practices can now reimburse you straightaway using new “Mediclear” software – ask your psychologist about “Mediclear” if this would be helpful for you.

Your psychologist will then be able to see you for 6 sessions. After the 6th session they will need to speak to your GP and decide if you are eligible for an additional 4 sessions.

Getting the most out of your referral

Some people find that they need more than10 sessions. While it is unlikely you will be able to access further sessions through your GP, there are ways that you can structure your appointments to get the most out of them.

You might space your initial sessions close together, and then space them out over time. You might choose to have your first sessions focus on helping you find employment or financial assistance. Or you might space your rebate sessions one month apart, and attend extra sessions in between when you can.

If you have private health insurance, contact your insurer – private health funds often provide cover for psychological services, and some of them run programs that can provide you with extra psychological support.

There are other services you may be elligble for

If you have multiple health issues, or your mental health issues are significantly impacting your physical health, you may be eligible for a referral to some other services such as -  

Aboriginal Health Worker



Diabetes Educator


Exercise Physiologist

Occupational Therapist




Speech Pathologist

If any issues such as pain, hearing loss, diabetes or weight gain/loss are making your mental health worse, you should consider asking your GP for a referral to one of these professionals as well.

Want to find out more?

“Better Access to Mental Health Care” is an initiative of the Department of Health and Ageing. You can find out more about it at the Department of Health and Ageing website.


Categories: Educational, Mental health, Health

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