Who Can Help

There are many professionals who are able to help when you are facing difficulties. You may be facing a crisis situation, need some extra support or someone to talk to. A range of services can help with mental health issues but it can be difficult to know who is the best person to contact as they vary in their levels of expertise, training and experience. This information is intended as a guide to assist in determining who may best be able to help depending on the situation and requirements.

General Practitioner (GP)

A GP is always a good first place to begin if you or someone you know is feeling anxious, depressed, stressed or having difficulties coping. A GP will do a general medical exam initially and possibly some tests to rule out other causes of the symptoms. They may ask several questions regarding your mental state to determine the best treatment plan.

They may refer you to a specialist for further support and treatment depending on the information you provide to them and from their initial assessment. They may also determine if medication would be beneficial, and prescribe medication to assist with the symptoms.

GPs are an important factor in mental health support and treatment and will be able to assist with first signs of a more complex mental health issue. Should you be referred to a specialist, the GP will provide a Mental Health Care Plan to see a psychologist that is partially rebated through Medicare, or they may provide a referral to a psychiatrist.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. They will treat more complex illnesses such as psychosis, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, and will have a broader knowledge of symptoms, treatment and medication. They also treat severe depression, anxiety, eating disorders and addictions, as well as other mental illnesses.

The psychiatrist may also run further tests to determine any biological factors that are causing symptoms. They work in hospitals, community mental health services and private practice. They are able to admit someone to hospital as an involuntary patient if they believe the person to be at risk to themselves or others under the terms of the Mental Health Act. Psychiatrists often work in conjunction with another professional such as a psychologist or psychotherapist.

A list of registered psychiatrists may be found at www.ranzcp.org.au


Psychologists study human behaviour and how we think, feel and behave, using scientific methods. They see people for a wide range of reasons, including depression, relationship issues, stress, anxiety, mood disorders, other mental health issues, and for people with challenging situations that are causing them difficulties in coping. They can also assist with learning difficulties, behavioural issues, abuse and substance abuse, grief and loss.

There are different therapies that psychologists use in their treatments, such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, Talking Therapy, and Group Therapy. Most psychologists will specialise in a particular area, so it is important to determine this prior to an appointment. The fees for psychologists may be covered under Medicare, and are able to be rebated with a Mental Health Care Plan, entitling a limited number of appointments.

Clinical psychologists are trained to treat more severe mental illnesses. They are able to assess and treat people who have mental health issues such as psychosis and emotional disorders, and are able to diagnose, whereas a psychologist will not diagnose.

A list of registered psychologists may be found at www.psychology.org.au


Psychotherapy is used for regular interaction with a person to help them in overcoming problems and changing behaviours. It includes certain beliefs, obsessions or compulsions, emotions, social skills and relationships. Most treatments involve one-on-one sessions but may also include family members or groups at times.

They provide counselling and therapies but differ from a counsellor as their treatments usually continue for a longer period of time.

A list of psychotherapists may be found at www.nswipp.org


Counsellors can assist with a number of issues for personal issues such as relationships, work issues, grief, loss, and personal difficulties. They can also help with other mental health issues by using Talking Therapy. They assist with developing an understanding of the problem and finding ways to change the situation and thinking. It allows talking through personal concerns, finding coping strategies, increasing self awareness and perspective.

It’s important to be aware that counsellors are not regulated as other professionals are and therefore you should ask about their qualifications and experience. Fees charged by a counsellor are not covered under Medicare.

A list of counsellors may be found at www.pacfa.org.au or www.australiacounselling.com.au

Social Workers

Social workers may be psychotherapists or case managers. They work in many settings, including hospitals and community mental health. They generally work in social and environmental areas and are able to assist with many areas such as aged care, finding housing, employment, obtaining entitlements such as Centrelink. They follow principles of human rights and social justice.

Social workers also work in areas of child welfare, family disputes and abuse, disability services and education. Generally someone is referred to a social worker through another service or agency. If you see a social worker privately, a Mental Health Care Plan may be required from a GP.

A list of social workers may be found at www.aasw.asn.au

Occupational Therapists (OTs)

Occupational therapists assist people who have difficulty with daily functions resulting from their mental health condition. They assist participation in everyday activities. They can assist people with disabilities, including developmental disabilities in children and provide therapy to improve coordination and functioning.

Mental health OTs help those people who are struggling with difficult circumstances adjust and manage emotions, stress, parenting issues and severe and complex mental health issues. They also assist with Autism Spectrum Disorder. They work to improve developmental, psychosocial, mental health and self care function to improve life quality and ability.

A list of occupational therapists may be found at www.otaus.com.au