The right help for me

There are a range of different types of support and treatments available in the community – the challenge is sometimes knowing which types of help are right for you and most likely to work.

What type of treatment is best for me?

The type of treatment that is right for you will depend on a number of factors including:

  • The nature of your concern
  • Your personal history
  • The presence of symptoms, the different types of symptoms you may have and how long they have been present
  • The severity of your symptoms.

Sometimes you may be going through a stressful period, and the opportunity to simply talk openly, honestly and without judgement can provide a huge relief. Some lifestyle changes can also help you to release stress (eg. exercise), give yourself the opportunity to focus on yourself, and improve your overall sense of wellbeing.

Often however this won’t be enough, and it will be important to access effective treatment for emotional and mental health conditions that you may be experiencing – just as you would seek treatment for mastitis, diabetes or asthma.  But which type of treatment is best for you?

We suggest treatments that are recognised in the Perinatal Clinical Practice Guideline, and have been demonstrated in the research to be the most effective for what you’re experiencing at this stage in your life. Almost all of these are supported by Medicare in Australia, and the first step to accessing them is to book an appointment with your General Practitioner, who will then be able to make the appropriate referrals.

Who is the best person to deliver the treatment?

When it comes to seeking help, it can be confusing to know which type of professional to go to and what kind of help they offer.  Below is an explanation of the different types of professionals who provide mental health support and or treatment.

General Practitioner

GPs can provide initial assessment, medical treatment (medications), and/or referral to mental health specialists.  They can prescribe medication for mental health problems and also some GPs have training in talking therapies.

How a GP can help you
General Practitioners are often the first port of call for health problems – both physical and mental. Many GPs are used to dealing with depression and other mental health issues. Some take a special interest and undertake additional training in the area.

Your GP may conduct an initial general check-up to identify whether there are any physical causes to your symptoms.
Depending on the nature of the problem, your GP will either conduct an assessment by asking you questions such as how you are feeling, symptoms you are experiencing and how long you have felt this way. A GP may provide you with medical and/or psychological help, or, depending on your needs, refer you to mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

If you have a mental health problem, your GP may:
– Prescribe antidepressant medication to relieve some of the symptoms.
– Recommend or provide some psychological intervention, which involved a structured approach to helping you to manage your symptoms. Examples of these therapies include cognitive behaviour therapy or interpersonal therapy. These are proven effective ways to help you to understand the way you think and feel, and give you some techniques to manage the thoughts or behaviours which might be impacting on your ability to function from day to day and/or your overall quality of life.

It’s important that you feel comfortable talking about how you are feeling so your GP has as much information to help you as possible. Just as is the case with physical problems, the more information they have, the more that have to go on to try to understand what might be going on for you. It is useful to think about the way you are thinking and feeling, and how this is impacting on your everyday life.

When booking your GP appointment it’s a good idea to ask for a longer or double appointment if possible. It’s better to have time to discuss your situation without feeling rushed. If you can’t make a longer appointment, try discussing your concerns early in the appointment so there is time for the GP to explore this with you.

Your doctor can also refer you to services provided by psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists. Medicare rebates are available for up to 10 individual and 10 group therapy sessions for people with a diagnosed mental disorder and a mental health care plan.

Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are specialised doctors who can provide diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental, emotional and behavioural disorders. They provide both medical (medications) and psychological (talking) therapies.

How a psychiatrist can help you
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are specialists in mental health, just like a cardiologist specialises in heart-related conditions. They specialise in diagnosing and treating people with different types of mental health problems and mental illnesses.

Psychiatrists have a deep understanding of physical and mental health – and how they affect each other. Their high level of training enables them to help people with more complex mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and addiction. A psychiatrist may also be consulted for more common conditions like depression and anxiety, particularly if the condition is severe and/or other treatments are not working effectively. Sometimes a psychiatrist may provide a one-off consultation to enable a diagnosis and then recommend the course of treatment which may be managed by GP or other trained mental health professionals.

Psychiatrists assess all of your mental and physical symptoms. Based on the information you provide and often other tests (e.g blood tests, psychological tests) they make a diagnosis and work with you to develop a management plan for your treatment and recovery.

Psychiatrists provide different types of psychological treatment, prescribe medications and are also able to do procedures such as electroconvulsive therapy.

Like other medical specialists, you need a referral from a GP or another medical doctor to see a Psychiatrist. A psychiatrist who has a special interest and expertise in mental health problems and illnesses that occur around the time of having a baby is referred to as a Perinatal Psychiatrist. With their specialist medical knowledge, they are best placed to know which medications are safe to use in pregnancy and/or when breast-feeding. They are also the most qualified profession to manage complex or severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, postpartum psychosis as well as moderate to severe depression and anxiety around the time of having a baby.

Psychologist

Psychologists and other mental health therapists specialise in preventing, diagnosing and treating a range of conditions and illnesses through psychological (talking) therapies. In Australia psychologists do not prescribe medications.

There are different types of psychologists, each with different levels of training and experience and/or different areas of focus in their training. Psychologists provide different types of non-medical (non-drug treatments) to help people to understand and manage their symptoms, and the factors that may be contributing to a mental health condition.  Psychologists with extra training and expertise in providing help for expectant and new parents are called perinatal psychologists.

How a Registered Psychologist can help you
A registered psychologist is a professional trained in the science of how people think, feel, behave and learn.

Registered psychologists are required to have a minimum of six years of university training and supervised experience, and have ongoing education to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. They must also keep to certain strict standards to keep their registration, and must provide professional services according to a strict code of ethics, written by the Australian Psychological Society.

Although the services provided by Psychologists can be varied, generally they will draw on their training and understanding of different types of mental health problems to enable you to understand about the condition, and develop tools and strategies to manage and take control of symptoms. Often a person may see a psychologist to help them to develop these strategies, and some may also see a GP or psychiatrist who will prescribe medication.

You don’t need a referral from a GP to see Psychologist, however a Mental Health Treatment Plan from a GP is needed to claim rebates from Medicare. Medicare rebates are available for individual or group sessions with Psychologists.

How a Clinical Psychologist can help you
A clinical psychologist is a psychologist who is an expert in mental health. They have undertaken highly specialised training in the assessment, diagnosis, and psychological treatment of mental health, behavioural, and emotional conditions. Clinical psychologists are the only psychologists to have this advanced level of education and training (eight years) in mental health.

Clinical psychology is a science-based profession that integrates theory and clinical practice to understand, prevent, and relieve psychological problems or disorders whether they are mild, moderate, severe, chronic, or complex.

You don’t need a referral from a GP to see Psychologist, however a Mental Health Treatment Plan from a GP is needed to claim rebates from Medicare. Medicare rebates are available for individual or group sessions with Clinical Psychologists.

Social worker

How a Social Worker can help you
Social workers work with individuals, families, groups and communities in the context of their physical, social and cultural environments, their past and current experiences, and their cultural and belief systems.

Social workers maintain a focus on both assisting with and improving human wellbeing and identifying and addressing any external issues (known as system or structural issues) that may impact on wellbeing or may create inequality, injustice and discrimination. A social worker for example, can help you to be aware of, and access community supports and services that may be available to assist you.

Social workers often do casework where they look after clients over time, provide counselling, advocacy, community engagement and development and social action to address issues at both the personal and social level. Social workers working with expectant or new parents may be involved with providing counselling, education, making sure people are aware of, can access community services to support them. Often social workers are employed by maternity hospitals to help families who may be in need of personal or social support services in their transition to parenthood.

How an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker can help you
Accredited Mental Health Social workers specialise in working with and treating mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Many Accredited Mental Health Social Workers are registered with Medicare to provide focused psychological strategies. Accredited Mental Health Social workers draw on a range of theories and therapeutic approaches to work with various people involved in their care to support their recovery and help them to effectively manage or change the situations that may contribute to their distress and/or mental health conditions.

You don’t need a referral from a GP to see an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, however a Mental Health Treatment Plan from a GP is needed to claim rebates from Medicare. Medicare rebates are available for individual or group sessions with these Accredited Mental Health Social Workers.

Mental health nurses

How a Mental Health Nurse can help you
Mental health nurses are nurses who have undertaken further training to care for people with mental health conditions. While most mental health nurses work in specialist mental health services, some work with private psychiatrists and GPs. Mental health nurses can provide you with information about mental health conditions and support your treatment and recovery, including reviewing the state of your mental health and monitoring your medication or other treatment recommended by your GP or psychiatrist.

Some mental health nurses have training in providing psychological therapies. For a referral to a mental health nurse who works in a general practice or with a psychiatrist, ask your GP or psychiatrist.

Occupational therapists

How an Occupational Therapist can help you
Occupational therapists in mental health help people who have difficulty functioning because of a mental health condition (such as anxiety or depression) to participate in normal, everyday activities. This can particularly be the case around the time of having a baby when there are lots of new changes and responsibilities. Some occupational therapists are registered with Medicare to provide focused psychological strategies for people with depression or anxiety.

You don’t need a referral from a GP to see an occupational therapist in mental health, however a Mental Health Treatment Plan from a GP is needed to claim rebates from Medicare or to utilise the ATAPS program. Medicare rebates are available for individual or group sessions with occupational therapists in mental health.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers

How an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health worker can help you
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers understand the health issues of Indigenous people and what is needed to provide culturally safe and accessible services.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health workers are health workers who work specifically in the mental health area and have specific mental health qualifications. Support provided by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health workers for expectant and new parents might include: screening, assessment, referrals, case management, transport to and attendance at specialist appointments, education, improving access to mainstream services, advocacy, counselling, support for family and acute distress response, and other forms of assistance.

Counsellor

Counsellors who are not qualified mental health therapists (see above) can offer supportive counselling (such as listening, understanding and self-help techniques).

How a Counsellor can help you
A ‘Counsellor’ is a generic term used to describe various professionals who offer some type of supportive listening, understanding and talking therapy. A counsellor may be an one of the types of health professional listed above. Generally, a counsellor can talk through different problems you may be experiencing and look for possible solutions. However, it is important to note that not all counsellors have specific training.

While there are many qualified counsellors who work across different settings, unfortunately, anyone can call themselves a ‘counsellor’, even if they don’t have training or experience. For this reason, it’s important to ask for information about the professionals qualifications and whether they are registered with a state board or a professional society.

It is also important to note that only psychologists, social workers or occupational therapists are eligible to be registered with Medicare to provide services that attract a Medicare rebate, so this may not be subsidised by Medicare and incur more out-of-pocket expenses.

Helplines and e-Therapies

If you are not ready to meet with someone face-to-face, you may find an e-Therapy or helpline useful. e-Therapies are support and treatments that people can access online. This may be through a computer generated program, or speaking to someone via online chat or video.

There are also a range of telephone services that are available to provide people with an opportunity to talk to someone who understands what you are going through, offer support and guide you to services that might be helpful. 

Some helplines are staffed by volunteers who have had some training, others are staffed by professionals. 

Ask for help early on

The sooner you seek advice and help, the greater range of treatment options are likely to be available to you, and the faster you can begin to take control of the symptoms and your situation. Often this may involve a combination of treatments and may also involve parenting support services. It can also take some time to find a health professional that you feel comfortable with and is available. Your GP, obstetrician, midwife or maternal and child family health nurse can be a great starting point to help you to find the best treatment approach, or professional to help you.

Remember finding the right person can take time and energy, and waiting until things get worse will only make this harder. Getting treatment early will  help you to recover faster.

Find out more about accessing mental health services under Medicare.