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


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 new 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 the past six years.

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.


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


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 problems are more severe or complex.

MORE: How to manage panic attacks

Hospital services

If you are experiencing severe mental health problems, you might 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.

Online resources

In addition to in-person services, there are also a number of online resources available, including:

  • beyondblue for information and advice, as well as an online live chat. You can also call and speak to someone 24 hours a day on 1300 22 4636.
  • Lifeline for crisis support and suicide prevention services with an online live chat. You can also call them 24 hours a day on 13 11 14.

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 and you’ve served your waiting periods, 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 and you’ve served your waiting periods, 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.

Want health cover for your body and your mind? Medibank’s team of experts will help you find cover to suit your needs; now and in the future.

*Benefits are subject to annual limits