Want Support Managing Your Mental Health? Here’s A Practical Guide For Getting Help

If you’re reading this, you’ve realised that you might need some help managing your mental health. Maybe it’s taken you a while to figure it out, and the last thing we want is people putting off getting that help because navigating this space is confusing, complicated or intimidating. So how do you access the mental health care system and find someone who can help? We’ve broken it down into a step-by-step guide, looking at the pros and cons of each option, and even covering whether you need private health insurance or Medicare.

Dealing with the health system can, quite frankly, be a total pain in the arse. There are hoops to jump through and paperwork to sign. Coming to the realisation that you need help is tough enough, so we don’t want so many young Australians to balk when it comes to actually making the call. But – I promise – you aren’t alone! I’ve been there. And you can do this.

I’ve broken it down for you: three major ways to access services, with a step-by-step guide to getting help.

Option #1: GP Referrals

A GP referral is one of the most common ways that people access different forms of therapy. So, how does it work?

#1 Book a double appointment with your local GP.

#2 Chat to them as frankly as you can about how you’ve been feeling. I know it’s tough to do, but the more information you give them, the more they can help.

#3 Your doc will put together a Mental Health Care Plan and, depending on your needs, refer you onto someone who can help (a counselor, psychologist, organisation, psychiatrist).

#4 Once you have the referral, call up the practitioner and book in, and make sure to let them know you have a Mental Health Plan. It allows you to receive up to 10 rebated sessions per year!

Cost: You’ll receive a Medicare rebate for up to 10 sessions, which basically means that as long as you have that lil’ green Medicare card, the government will pay for a fair chunk of your session costs. Unfortunately, you will usually need to pay a gap fee to cover the costs. The gap is usually somewhere between $10-60 per session, so make sure you ask for all the details.

Pros: Cheap sessions! Medicare rebate! Care plan!
Cons: Only 10 sessions per year and that pesky gap – but you can shop around, and it’s much cheaper than paying for full sessions.

Hot tip: If you have an idea in mind of the kind of therapy you are looking for, or just want to find someone yourself, do your research before you head to your GP. Doctors will usually recommend a practice they are familiar with, but you are absolutely entitled to choose someone yourself.

Option #2: Employee Assistance Program (take advantage of your workplace)

#Realtalk, this is the holy grail of all options. Basically, certain organisations and workplaces have funding put aside to look after the mental health of their employees (brilliant, right?). So, how can you access it?

#1 Figure out if your workplace offers EAPs. Get in touch with Human Resources (and remember that they have to keep everything confidential), or chat to a manager if you’re comfortable.

#2 EAP is an option? Hells yeah! Your HR person will usually explain how it works from this point – often, they will have a list of providers that work with EAPs and can either recommend someone or you can choose someone yourself.

#3 Once you’ve found a service that you think will work for you, tell your HR person, and they should set all the paperwork up from there.

#4 Book in your first appointment, hooray! Most EAPs give you somewhere between four and eight sessions per year, and they are completely and utterly FREE.

Cost: FREE!

Pros: Free! Did I mention free? Free.
Cons: You might feel a bit weird accessing help through your workplace, but all organisations will have structures in place to ensure it’s kept completely confidential. Your boss won’t know, your team won’t know, and it should never, ever, affect your working life.

Hot tip: Your workplace will most likely offer a set number of sessions with the EAP, but in many cases your practitioner can request a few more if they deem them necessary. So, if you’re coming to the end of your free sessions, don’t stress.

Option #3: Self referral

This can be the toughest option when it comes to the financial side of things. But if money isn’t a big issue or you want to take care of things yourself, this is a good way to go.

#1 Research, research, research. Look up practitioners in your area, different types of therapy, and ask for recommendations if you can. Find a practice or person that you think might work well for you.

#2 Call up and book in! That’s it, great success.

Cost: For this option, you will need to pay the full amount for each session, but if you have private health cover, you might be able to get some of it back. Costs vary wildly depending on the type of practitioner, but you could be looking at anywhere between $80-300 per session straight up.

Pros: Very little paperwork, no waiting to get into your GP, and everything is in your hands.
Cons: Money, money, money.

Hot tip: Some organisations will allow payment on a sliding scale dependent on your income, including Relationships Australia.

Are there other ways?

There are a few other avenues to try out that I haven’t mentioned here; if you’re studying or working at a university, many campuses will offer free or discounted counselling services. Many mental health organisations and hotlines offer online or telephone counselling, and sometimes you can access a few free sessions.

Always remember that despite all the paperwork and bullshit that comes along with this, your care is in your hands. If you aren’t comfortable with a practitioner, if they simply aren’t working for you, or if you’ve seen a different type of therapy or help you want to try out, do it! Don’t be afraid to request changes, to do your research, and remember that you aren’t alone in this.


If you need help or support urgently, head straight to the nearest hospital or call Lifeline on 13 11 14. You can also contact Headspace on 1800 650 890, or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

Chloe Papas is a journalist and writer based in Victoria. You can find her on Twitter here.