Mental health issues are on the rise. What services are available for people experiencing them?

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Are you living with a mental health condition and don’t know where to turn? You’re not alone.

Around half the Australian population will experience a mental health issue at some point during their lifetime, and data from the Medibank Better Health Index suggests certain conditions — including anxiety, depression and panic attacks — are on the rise, with each showing a marked increase over time.

If you’re living with a mental health condition, don’t do it in silence. There are treatment options available to all Australians — whether you have private health insurance or not. It’s just a matter of knowing what’s out there and where to start.

So, what’s the first step?

Speak to your GP

If you haven’t been feeling yourself for some time, the first thing to do is speak to your GP. They can assess your symptoms to make a diagnosis, develop a mental health care plan specific to your needs, and provide a referral for a mental health specialist. While you may have to pay extra for consultations with a specialist, Medicare does provide a rebate if you have a referral. Check all costs when booking your appointment to avoid any unexpected fees.

MORE: How our mental health differs from state to state

Psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors….what’s the difference?

Once you’ve got a mental health care plan, your doctor may refer you to a specialist who can help. This could be a psychiatrist, psychologist or counsellor. Under Medicare, everyone with a care plan is entitled to 10 subsidised specialist appointments each year.

Counsellors

Counsellor is a generic term for someone who offers talking therapy and may be a psychologist, nurse, social worker or occupational therapist. It’s a good idea to check that your counsellor is accredited and qualified with a governing body.

Psychologists

Psychologists are university-educated and must be registered to work with the Psychology Board of Australia. Psychologists can provide talking therapy to deal with conditions like depression, anxiety, stress and grief.

Psychiatrists

While psychologists and psychiatrists share many similarities, the major difference between the two is psychiatrists are trained as medical doctors, and specialise in mental health treatment. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe medications and admit people to hospital, while psychologists cannot. There is no hard and fast rule, but psychiatrists tend to look after people whose mental health issues are more severe or complex.

Hospital services

Some people who experience mental health problems may need to spend some time in hospital. Both public and private hospitals provide mental health services. You may be referred to a hospital through an emergency department, community mental health team or your GP.

MORE: How to manage panic attacks

How can private health insurance help with mental health treatment?

Under Australia’s public mental health system, everyone with a mental health care plan is entitled to 10 appointments per year with a mental health specialist, subsidised by Medicare. If you have private health insurance with Extras cover that includes psychology, you may be able to use your cover to help pay towards additional appointments with a psychologist, or to help pay towards an appointment with a psychologist when you haven’t got a mental health care plan from your GP*.

If you are experiencing severe mental health problems and have been referred to hospital, private health insurance can help pay towards treatment in a private hospital. If you have hospital cover, it can help pay towards your hospital accommodation and any medical charges raised by doctors where a Medicare benefit is payable. Limits and conditions often apply depending on the type of cover you have and the hospital you’re admitted to. If you’re unsure what you’re covered for, double check your policy and confirm with your health insurance provider what out-of-pocket expenses you can expect.

*Benefits are subject to annual limits.

Removing the barriers to getting help

In April 2018 a Mental Health Waiver was introduced. This gives eligible private hospital insurance members who have already served their waiting period for Restricted in-hospital psychiatric treatment the option to upgrade their cover to one with Included in-hospital psychiatric treatment and elect to have the 2 month waiting period for those higher benefits waived. Members need to have held hospital cover without a break of more than 2 months to be eligible to use the waiver. Members will only be able to use the Mental Health Waiver once in their lifetime.

The waiver only applies to the 2 month waiting period for the higher Included benefits for in-hospital psychiatric services and all other applicable waiting periods will continue to apply.

To use the Mental Health Waiver, members need to contact Medibank on 132 331, visit a store or engage via our 24/7 live chat. A member can also grant authority to another person to make changes to their policy on their behalf.

You can read more about the Mental Health Waiver here.

In addition to the reforms that apply to hospital cover, Medibank has removed the 2 month waiting period on psychology services on marketable extras and packaged products following 1 April 2018. This means members upgrading to these products can immediately access clinical psychology extras benefits (up to annual limits).

Where and how can I access help?

If you are experiencing a mental health issue, a good place to start the discussion about getting help is with your GP. If you, or someone you know, need immediate support or medical assistance, contact 000 in an emergency or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Medibank members with hospital cover can access Medibank Mental Health Phone Support to speak to a registered mental health professional. The service can help with information related to the best place to seek help, how to support a loved one, or information about signs and symptoms of mental health concerns.

Medibank Mental Health Phone Support will also offer, where appropriate, a follow up service to check in on how the customer's help seeking journey is progressing. It can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1800 644 325*.

*Overseas Student Health Cover members should call the Student Health & Support Line on 1800 887 283.

For more tips and information on how to take care of your mental health, visit: