Support someone to see a mental health professional

Supporting someone to see a mental health professional about anxiety and depression can be difficult. It's important to keep encouraging them to seek professional support after you've had a conversation with them about their mental health.

Find out how to get started, what to expect and how you can be involved.

For tips on having the conversation, go to: How to talk to someone you’re worried about.
Illustration of two people engaged in a counselling session

Find a mental health professional

Often the best place to start is with the person’s regular GP (doctor). They can listen to their symptoms and refer them to a specialist mental health practitioner. For example, there may be a local psychologist who specialises in helping teenagers with anxiety. Or a psychiatrist who is experienced in treating severe depression.

The GP may also write a mental health treatment plan so you can get Medicare rebates for psychologist appointments.

When you book the GP appointment, ask for a longer appointment to talk about mental health.

You can also book directly with a counsellor or a psychologist. You don’t need a referral.

For more information about how to find a mental health professional and make an appointment go to Find a mental health professional.

"My partner casually suggested, maybe you just need to speak to someone."

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Nicole's story

Support someone at their first mental health professional appointment

Your support at this early stage can be important in helping them get effective treatment. It’s also important to keep up their motivation during ongoing treatment.

Remember the person you’re supporting needs to feel in control and take responsibility for their own treatment as well. Make sure they’re actively involved in decisions. Taking over and doing everything for them can risk them withdrawing from you and further treatment.

How can I be involved List Item

Talk to the person you support about how you’ll be involved in the first appointment and the ongoing treatment process.

It can be useful to view this as a partnership to seek effective treatment and work towards recovery.

You may want to agree on:
  • what information you’ll share with the mental health professional
whether you’ll attend parts of the appointment – for example, you might attend the first part, the last part or just wait in the waiting room.

Is it helpful for me to go to the appointments?

Being there at the first part of the appointment can be helpful as you can give the health professional information about the person’s symptoms. This is particularly useful when the person you’re supporting finds it hard to express themself.

It can also be helpful to be involved at the end of the appointment. You can find out the best way to support the person between appointments.

Privacy and confidentiality

Getting information from the health professional about the person you’re supporting can be complex.

Privacy and confidentiality laws means you may not be allowed give or receive certain information. You may need the person receiving treatment to give their permission for you to be involved.

Being allowed to give and receive information to health professionals gives:
  • the health professional the information they need about the person’s condition

  • you the information you need to support the person

  • Talk to the person you’re supporting about why you might need to talk to their mental health practitioner. This could include:

  • managing day-to-day issues – at home, work, school or university you can support them better if you understand what they need.
  • knowing what to expect - understanding what treatments are being started, and when, so you know what’s okay and when to get help.
  • if their condition gets worse – it’s important you understand what the plan is so that if the person’s anxiety or depression gets more severe, you’ll know what to do and who to contact.

"It was the case of asking my mum for help."

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Support someone after the first appointment

It can be a relief to make it through the first appointment. Once you have a diagnosis and treatment plan, it’s important to be realistic about what the next steps look like. It can help to acknowledge this is the beginning of the recovery process, not the end.

Continue to be involved in the treatment process

Talk to the person about how you’ll be involved after the first appointment. This could include:

  • attending future appointments with them
  • driving them to appointments
  • helping them remember their appointments.
It’s helpful to show your support. If you attend appointments with them, make the most of the opportunity to ask questions and provide relevant information.

Communicating with mental health professionals

Talk to the person’s mental health professional about the best way for you to stay informed. Make sure you know who to contact in an emergency.

Some health professionals may be happy for you to email your questions or to make a separate time for you to talk with them about your concerns.

Many health professionals welcome talking to the support person. However, some mental health professionals may be unwilling to provide information about the treatment of the person you support, even with their consent.

Remember that they’re also trying to help the person you support. Being angry and blaming them for what has happened won’t solve the problem. Try to work together as a team with the health professional to be more helpful and productive.

Learn about anxiety and depression

There may be times when everything feels overwhelming and when the symptoms, behaviour and challenges seem relentless. 

One way to manage these feelings is to learn more about what’s happening, why it’s happening and what to do next.

We have evidence-based information resources you can use to educate yourself. Start your journey here:

Keep track of how things are going

One important part of being a support person can be to monitor how things are going. This might include:
  • how the person is progressing in their recovery
  • how you’re working together as a team
  • your confidence about understanding what’s happening.
Below are a few ideas from others who have supported someone with a mental health condition.

1. Keep a diary or journal

Write notes in a diary or journal each day about progress, issues and symptoms.


2. Use a rating system

You and the person you’re supporting can use a rating system to rate how they’re going each day. It may be as simple as using a scale of 1 to 10 – with 1 being a very bad day and 10 being excellent.

The ratings can be a useful record of improvements and a guide as to what you both see as a good or not-so-good day. You’ll be able to reflect on the days when things ran smoothly and work towards having more of those days. It will also be a handy tool to have when you each have different ratings. You may want to talk about why you saw things differently.


3. Make a schedule of medications

Record the schedule of medications and track, list and discuss side-effects. This may be helpful for the doctor who may not see all of the side-effects during an appointment.


Remember to talk about other things

It’s important to talk about other things besides the mental health condition, so it doesn’t become the focal point of your life and relationship.

Talk about things that are happening, both in your world and more broadly. The person you support may not be interested or able to engage completely with this, but it’s essential that they have some awareness of other things happening in their social and professional communities.

You may try to encourage the person to participate in a small activity each day – a short walk, helping to prepare a meal, reading or listening to music.

It can be hard to keep going when the person you support is not able to get much enjoyment or pleasure from anything, but it can be helpful.


Support someone who wants to stop treatment

Sometimes, the person may say they’re better. They feel well and don’t need to take medication or see the mental health professional anymore.

If this happens, remind the person that they should talk to the professional about their decision.

Any changes to medication should be made by the GP or treating team. The person should never change or stop taking their medication without consulting a doctor. If a person suddenly stops taking certain medications, it can cause withdrawal symptoms which can be unpleasant and difficult to manage.

Look after your own mental health and wellbeing

As a support person, it’s important to look after yourself as well. There are many resources and programs available to help and support you.

For more information: Look after your wellbeing while supporting someone else.
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