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Australian mental health services

11-minute read

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help now, call triple zero (000). You can also call  Lifeline  on 13 11 14 — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

There are many different mental health services in Australia. The Federal, state and territory governments, and the private sector, provide these services. They can be face-to-face, online or by telephone. Understanding how they work and fit together can be daunting. Here is a summary of the different types of mental health services and how to access them.

Emergency mental health care

A mental health crisis, when someone may hurt themselves or others, is an emergency.

If you or someone you care for is in immediate danger call triple zero (000) or go to your nearest emergency department.

If you’re in crisis and need support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. This service is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Mental health telephone triage services

Each state and territory has a mental health telephone triage service. Call this for help for you or someone else. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:

Emergency departments

All major public hospitals (and some private hospitals) have an emergency department. This is where people can receive emergency help for mental health conditions.

If you or someone you know feels suicidal, has thoughts of harming others or is very unwell, you can visit your local emergency department.

Ambulance

Ambulance services also provide emergency care to people with mental health conditions. Dial triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

Inpatient hospital care

Sometimes a person may need to stay at hospital for treatment. Major public hospitals have psychiatric units. There are also specialist psychiatric hospitals, both public and private. These hospitals have a range of specialist mental health professionals. Someone may stay in a psychiatric hospital for a day or a couple of weeks or longer.

A person is normally admitted to a public psychiatric facility through the emergency department, admissions unit or a community mental health team. Your doctor or a psychiatrist will help admit you to to private psychiatric hospital.

Occasionally, a person may need to stay at a mental health unit by law. This is for their own safety or for the safety of others. After the person’s admission to a mental health unit, a doctor must make the case to a tribunal to extend their stay, and the person can legally object.

Community mental health services

Community mental health services can assess people experiencing mental health problems and give them support.

There may be teams for:

  • children and adolescents
  • older people
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

And specifically for people:

  • experiencing acute episodes
  • needing recovery orientated care
  • with complex needs, for example homelessness
  • experiencing early psychosis
  • who have an acquired brain injury

Community mental health services are not standard across Australia. They generally involve different mental health professionals, including:

They often work together in teams. The team may work with a person’s general practitioner (GP). Some teams have peer workers — people who have experienced mental health problems and recovery.

How can community mental health services help?

Community mental health care recognises that a person who is well can become unwell. It helps in situations where a person’s mental health worsens suddenly. Some teams provide psychiatric care when a person has a mental health crisis.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) can help support people with mental health conditions that greatly impact on their everyday life. This support includes helping them find meaningful employment and activities. It also involves helping them with the challenges of daily living.

Where can you access community mental health care services?

Community mental health services can be provided in several ways:

  • hospital outpatient clinics
  • community mental health centres or clinics
  • in a person’s home
  • online
  • telephone

You can use the telephone mental health triage service for each state and territory to get mental health support. This triage service is available in each state and territory. It can refer people to a community mental health service if appropriate. These phone lines operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

People may get community mental health services at a residence, such as at a residential unit. This includes rehabilitation, treatment or extended care in a domestic-type environment.

This helps people move from being an inpatient in a hospital to living in the community. It also helps with independent living skills. It may help someone avoid admission to hospital in the first place or provide respite care.

Pop-up mental health hubs

People of all ages in Victoria who experience mental health problems (but not crisis situations) may be able to visit a ‘Head to Health’ pop-up mental health clinic if one is nearby. There are also a few Head to Health pop-up clinics in NSW and one in the ACT.

For a list of locations, visit Head to Health (NSW, Vic and the ACT).

To get this service, call 1800 595 212 from Monday to Friday, between 8:30am and 5pm (except public holidays). A mental health professional will work with you to meet your needs. This may involve referring you to a pop-up mental health hub, where you can choose from telehealth or face-to-face appointments with a mental health professional.

Specialist mental health services

Some mental health services specialise in certain mental health problems. They may be for serious mental health problems or aimed at specific groups of people.

Examples include services for eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, personality disorders and postnatal disorders. Some help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, war veterans, refugees, older people and families.

General practitioners, psychiatrists and other healthcare professionals

Many people with a mental health problem see a general practitioner (GP) first. You don’t need a referral to see a GP. They can diagnose and treat some mental health conditions themselves. They can tell you about appropriate services and refer you to other mental health professionals. Some general practices work with mental health teams.

In rural or remote Australia, a general practice may be one of the few places to offer a mental health service. But people can get Medicare rebates (refunds) to help them access mental health professionals, regardless of where they live. This includes video and telephone consultations.

To see a psychiatrist, you don’t always need a referral from a doctor, but without one you won’t get a Medicare rebate. If you see a psychiatrist in a public hospital or community health service, you usually won’t have to pay.

You don't need a referral to see a psychologist, occupational therapist, social worker or counsellor. However, with the right referral you can get a Medicare rebate with certain eligible psychologists, occupational therapists and social workers.

Telephone and online mental health support services

There are many non-Government organisations that offer free or low-cost mental health advice, counselling and online programmes. These services can help people who have difficulty accessing face-to-face services or who want to be anonymous.

Here is a list of mental health telephone helplines.

You can find online and other digital mental health programmes from trusted providers can be found at Head to Health. This is a free Government web portal that helps you find digital mental health services from trusted providers.

Online mental health programmes include:

  • headspace (for people aged 12 to 25 and their families) — call 1800 650 890 or chat online
  • Beyond Blue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) — call 1300 22 4636 or chat online
  • Black Dog Institute (anyone affected by mood disorders) — online help
  • SANE Australia (people living with a mental illness) — call 1800 18 7263 or chat online
  • This Way Up (anyone with stress, anxiety and depression) — online courses
  • MindSpot (people with anxiety and depression) — call 1800 61 44 34 or complete an online screening assessment.

Help for carers

If you care for someone with a mental health condition, find support at the Carer Gateway website.

How can I connect with a mental health service?

If you need to access a mental health service, it is best to find someone to be your first point of contact. This will usually be a doctor.

If you need advice on where to start, mental health helplines can guide you to the most appropriate care.

Most states and territories have a web page listing their mental health services and how to access them.

Find out more about where to get help for mental health problems and about mental health professionals here.

Who pays for mental health services?

Medicare pays for all or part of the cost of seeing doctors and psychiatrists. You can get a Medicare benefit for eligible psychologists, occupational therapists and social workers if you have a mental health treatment plan, or if a psychiatrist or paediatrician refers you. There may still be a gap to pay.

A mental health treatment plan helps pay for up to 20 appointments with a mental health professional each calendar year. A doctor must refer you and you must have a diagnosed mental illness.

Find out more about paying for mental health services.

Mental health services by state and territory

State and territory governments provide hospital, emergency and community mental health services. They also have a range of other services that support mental health including:

  • community support
  • housing
  • drug and alcohol rehabilitation
  • education and early childhood services

Many of these services are given through partnerships with organisations that offer support and education for people with mental illness.

Get a detailed overview of mental health services in each state:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2022


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