What If? A Guide to Accessing Mental Health Care

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This week’s blog post was written by F Ocean, a non-binary singer-songwriter and sound designer based in Naarm/Melbourne.

One of the biggest challenges to getting professional mental health support is all of the “what if” questions. What if it costs more than I can afford? What if my family and friends find out? What if it affects my ability to hold a job? 

If there’s one thing that could have helped me seek support sooner, it’s clear answers to some of these questions. As someone who’s gone through the process, I’ve compiled some of them here. 

Recognising that you need professional help for your mental health is a huge first step, but getting that assistance can seem overwhelming. Anxiety made it hard for me to seek support, and obsessive-compulsive disorder made it even harder to recognise the need to. The stigma around mental illness kept me from pursuing professional support. 

Once I started counselling for anxiety and OCD, it got easier. I got practical guidance on how to manage my mental health, and a space to articulate things that seemed stuck in my head. In turn, this gave me the confidence to ask about specialised queer services, which have been invaluable as I questioned my gender. In pursuing a Mental Health Care Plan, I maintained control of who knew and who didn’t. If you feel like you may need mental health assistance, or even just a bit of extra support in your everyday life, please know that you are worthy and valid of seeking help. The road to better mental health is long and sometimes difficult, but we all deserve to take that journey.  

It’s important to note I’m not a healthcare professional, and I speak only from my own experience navigating the mental health care system. I hope this guide can help alleviate some of the anxiety that goes with seeking support. 

What is the Mental Health Care Plan? 

Under the Better Access initiative, Australians with a mental illness or ongoing mental health issues are entitled to a Medicare rebate on six to ten sessions with a mental health professional per calendar year. All you need to do is ask your GP for an assessment of eligibility. 

There are a few handy guides to getting started on this. 

How do I know I’m eligible for a Mental Health Care Plan? 

Anyone with a mental illness or ongoing mental health issues is entitled to ask their GP for an assessment of eligibility. If you don’t have a previously diagnosed mental illness, your GP will need to ask some questions to determine your situation. In my experience, this comprised taking a K10 questionnaire (a commonly used measure of screening for anxiety and depression), along with a few other basic questions. This usually takes a bit longer than a standard consultation, so make sure to let them know when you book your appointment that you’ll need a longer consultation. 

If your GP thinks you would benefit from further support, they’ll write up a plan. 

How does the Medicare rebate work? 

This is perhaps the most difficult part of the process, and it does take a little time to wrap your head around it if you’re unfamiliar with the system. For starters, you need to have a Medicare card with you when you visit your GP if you want a rebate - this is important! 

Additionally, the GP consultation will have two ‘items’ listed for payment, one being the consultation itself and the other being the Mental Health Care Plan. The rebate will only apply to one of these items when you pay at the clinic (most GPs will offer the rebate on the more expensive item). The second item will need to be claimed online, over the phone, by post, or at a Medicare service centre. This isn’t much trouble if you’re on your own Medicare card - if you are over 15 and are still on a family Medicare Card, you can find some information on getting your own Medicare card here.  

How much do the Mental Health Care Plan sessions cost? 

If you have a Medicare card, that will cover a set amount of the cost. Any additional cost for the six to ten session depends largely on the healthcare provider you use. Just like with your GP consultation, a lot of allied health professionals (psychologists, occupational therapists, and social workers) offer bulk-billing services, whereby the session is subsidised by the government when using your Medicare card – that’s to say, the government will pay for the whole session, and you won’t be out of pocket.

To find healthcare providers who offer bulk-billing, as well as accessible and telehealth services (for video conferencing sessions), check out the Government’s Health Direct website. I was able to find a healthcare provider that offers low or no cost counselling based on your capacity to pay. 

How do I find a mental healthcare provider who is right for me? 

Once you have your Mental Health Care Plan, your GP will need to write you a referral. Your GP may suggest an allied healthcare provider, or you may like to do your own research and ask for a referral to a specific provider. 

Finding the right mental healthcare provider is a process, and it’s not uncommon to move between multiple psychologists or counsellors before finding one who fits. My counsellor encouraged me to change to someone else if it didn’t seem to be working - I didn’t feel the need to, but lots of people will see several mental health specialists before finding one that ‘clicks’. Doing your own research ahead of your GP consultation can make it less likely that you’ll need to change psychologists during your Mental Health Care Plan. 

The Australian Psychology Society’s Find a Psychologist page lets you search providers by location and issue, including issues related to sex work, religion, sexuality and gender dysphoria. 

Will it affect my job security? 

No! My GP took great pains to emphasise this - it is illegal to discriminate based on mental health history.

Many employers actually encourage seeking professional support. I initially went through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offered by my employer. The whole process was run confidentially through HR, and it helped me get started when I wasn’t too sure where to begin. 

What other ways can I seek professional support? 

There are many ways to get mental health support, including numerous hotlines and clinics. There are specialised services such as those offered by members of The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)), and LGBTQIA+ services

These may be a one-time service, or they may help you find a way to long-term support. I went from four sessions under the EAP, to a hotline call, to ten sessions on a Mental Health Care Plan. I now have ongoing counselling with a queer-run support service. As a result, my mental health has improved and continues to do so, and I’m able to safely explore my identity with counsellors who specialise in helping the LGBTQIA+ community. 

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Domini Marshall