It’s a big step when you realise you might need some help with your mental health. After all, with the general stigma surrounding psychological issues, it can be difficult simply to accept that you need assistance in the first place. However, coming to terms with that is only the first step towards better mental health, the next is finding the service that will serve you best.
This can become confusing when so many online resources are general in order to cater to international audiences or end up being US specific, but what’s available in Australia and Melbourne in particular for those seeking mental health support services?
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What Services Exist in Melbourne?
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about mental health care is therapy. Whether that’s from a counsellor, therapist, psychologist or clinical psychologist. In many cases these professionals work in practices that have a number of staff employed to ensure a variety of options, which is why being directed by your GP can be a good call. Your local GP will have an idea of what practices are near you, and once you have a referral most practices will have profiles of each of their therapists up online so you have an idea of who you want to actually book in with. Keep in mind that for most people the first therapist you speak with isn’t the right fit and you might need to speak with a few before you find the right therapist for you.
Psychiatrists & Psychologists
Psychiatrists are similar to psychologists but they have a more clinical approach and can help prescribe medication to manage symptoms, though your GP can prescribe some without consulting a psychiatrist, but they will sometimes refer you to one if they think a specialist opinion is necessary.
Both Psychologists and Psychiatrists are considered medical professionals and as such work similar to specialists. They are dotted around Melbourne and its surrounding suburbs, there are resources online to check for certain issues that may come up. Many Psychologists will list themselves as queer-friendly, for example, but past patient testimony can be reassuring for those who are concerned.
Acute, Sub-Acute, and Intervention Services
There are also inpatient care services such as Acute or Intervention services. These locations are intended for those who have a rapid onset of severe symptoms. These services can be public or private and are not always entered willingly if a patient is considered a risk to themselves or others.
There are also Sub-Acute services. These are also in-patient but with the intention to help stabilise the patient in order to avoid hospitalisation and generally longer term, but they still offer around the clock access to mental health services and monitoring. This includes CCU’s (community care units) and SECUs (secure extended care units).
These inpatient programs are known to have a number of issues but it helps to have an understanding of the whole mental health care system when approaching your own care. In order to be aware of what options are available and so you can come to your own conclusions rather than being asked to make big decisions on the spot as well as understanding what rights you have in any given situation. If you want to know what is required for someone to be treated against their consent under a compulsory treatment order you can check the criteria here.
The state funded services tend to be split by age group focusing mainly on Adolescent (0-18), Adult (18-64) and Older Persons (65+). These services cover the whole range from inpatient to outpatient and often have a focus on community services. Mental Health Community Support Services (MHCSS) for example are more about social health rather than clinical care and might involve being set up with a mental health support worker to help advise you how to approach your mental health care going forward and may help connect you to other services in your community.
And these are just in person treatment options.
Beyond Blue and Remote Mental Health Services
Beyond Blue has online chat options or a phone line to speak to a counsellor if you need to speak to someone immediately but don’t think it is a crisis situation to call Lifeline about. And there’s a number of other organisations if you don’t feel ready to speak non-anonymously or face to face.
However, there are a number of planned changes to this system coming fairly soon. The Mental Health and Wellbeing Act 2022 has been established following recommendations in the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System and goes into effect in September 2023. It appears that most changes are surrounding the rights of mental health patients and those experiencing psychological distress.
The new act is leading to the establishment of a Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission giving real options to those who are mistreated while being treated for mental health issues to issue official complaints, with positions specifically set aside for those who have experienced mental health problems as well as those who have experience as carers and loved ones, which bodes well for real understanding between those lodging complaints and the commission.
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What Financial Assistance is Out There for Melbournians?
Those seeking ongoing help to manage mental health disorders can get a Mental Health treatment plan from their gp. These plans are created by the doctor and patient to cater the care to the patient, but for many the point of this formal system is to acquire medicare rebates for psychologists or other mental health care, however their usage is limited.
Currently a mental health treatment plan only allows for 10 rebated sessions. This is less than 1 session a month and when in most cases, at least initially, it’s generally recommended that patients have a session fortnightly if not weekly (which would mean 26-52 sessions in a year.) Patients also aren’t given access to all 10 sessions at once, the current system requiring them to go back to their gp after 6 to reassess if they need the other 4. This holds true even for patients who have been receiving these plans for years for long term treatment.
During the height of governmental assistance during the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic the number of sessions was doubled to 20 to account for the wave of people who were suddenly dealing with psychological distress due to the isolation of lockdowns and the general anxiety that accompanies large scale health crises’. Despite a massively positive reception to the new plan, these additional sessions were not continued into 2023 with patients being given only 10 once again.
While obviously the current scheme is problematic in a number of aspects, having access to at least some rebated sessions means that healthcare is available to those who might otherwise not have any access due to financial difficulty, the rebate covers a flat rate and while that does mean at many practices you still need to pay the remaining out of pocket expense, some facilities do offer bulk billing in which case the patient has no fees to pay themself, the same is true for the gp appointments needed to receive a plan.
It’s Always Okay To Ask For Help
Navigating the medical system can be daunting at the best of times, and that’s for less stigmatised disciplines in physical health. The fear and self-consciousness that can come along when seeking mental health care can make things even more distressing.
But there are a number of people and organisations close to home that want to help you, this article is a non complete guide to just some of the resources available to melburnians. Oftentimes speaking to just one contact in the mental health care industry can mean being directed to a number of other entities that cater to your specific issues.
Mental Health isn’t something to be ashamed of, the pandemic proved quickly that all of us are susceptible to psychological distress and asking for help when you’re struggling can help you get your head back above water for yourself or for the people who love you.
If you are in a crisis situation you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Chris Pritchard is a 23-year-old freelance writer working in Melbourne, they write on a variety of topics and pursue work as a visual artist in their free time away from writing.