Getting support – how much does it cost?

The cost of getting medical or psychological treatment for anxietydepression or a related condition from a health professional varies. However, in the same way you can get a Medicare benefit when you see a doctor, you can also get part or all of the consultation fee subsidised when you see certain mental health professionals for treatment of anxiety and depression.

It is important to recognise that treatment doesn’t have to cost very much and can have lifelong benefits.

Where do I start?

In many cases, the first step in accessing services for treatment of anxietydepression or a related condition will be a consultation with a General Practitioner (GP). Your GP can work with you to write a Mental Health Treatment Plan and refer you to a mental health specialist, such as an allied health professional (psychologist, social worker or occupational therapist) or psychiatrist.

A Mental Health Treatment Plan is a treatment strategy prepared by a GP in consultation with you, and it looks at your mental health needs and goals, and outlines treatment options and support services to reach those goals. Often, a Mental Health Treatment Plan is needed for you to qualify for subsidised treatment, i.e. to get a Medicare benefit or receive treatment through the Government’s primary mental health care program.

If you're experiencing moderate to severe depression your doctor may prescribe antidepressant medication, along with psychological treatments. 

Who can assist?

While GPs may manage the treatment of an individual, under a Mental Health Treatment Plan, they may also decide to refer you for treatment to a mental health practitioner. People who provide psychological treatment for mental health conditions include psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists in mental health, mental health nurses, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health workers. Only GPs, psychiatrists and other doctors can prescribe medication. We have some information on the various health professionals available and the kind of treatments they provide.

What will it cost?

There are government benefits available to help pay part of the cost of medical and psychological treatments undertaken with mental health practitioners. Qualifying for these benefits is usually as simple as having a Mental Health Treatment Plan drawn up by a GP, or in some instances via a referral from a psychiatrist or paediatrician (in the case of a child or young person). Most medications are subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits SchemeIf you are unsure if you are eligible for subsidised treatment, check with your GP or health professional.

Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners

Medicare benefits are available for individual or group sessions with psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists in mental health under a government program called the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (Better Access) initiative. People who are diagnosed with a mental health condition and who would benefit from a structured treatment approach are eligible for these benefits. Health professionals each set their own fee, and a Medicare benefit is available under Better Access to reduce your overall out of pocket costs. It is a good idea to find out the cost of a service and the available Medicare benefit from the health professional before making an appointment.

In one calendar year, a person who is eligible can receive Medicare benefits for up to 10 individual consultations with a mental health professional. Following the initial course of treatment (a maximum of six sessions), a person can access more sessions upon review of up to 10 per calendar year. In addition, a person can receive Medicare benefits for 10 group therapy services per calendar year.

For more information on Better Access, talk to your doctor, treating health practitioner or download the Better access to mental health care ​fact sheet.

Primary Mental Health Services

Another way of accessing subsidised mental health treatment is through the Australian Government’s primary mental health care program. In this program, Primary Health Networks (PHNs) are responsible for commissioning a range of mental health services for people with a mental health condition. These services vary based on the needs of the individual, and the needs of different communities. To find out which PHN you live in, visit the Department of Health's website.

Information on the services available in your community is available through your local doctor, or by visiting your PHN website.

At a general level, PHNs fund:

Low intensity mental health services for early intervention

These services are for people who have, or are at-risk of, mild mental health conditions. They could include beyondblue’s NewAccess program, e-therapies, or other forms of psychological treatment. Low intensity services may be available without needing a referral from your GP.

Psychological therapies provided by mental health professionals

These services are designed to complement the Better Access program by assisting people who cannot easily access Medicare-based programs, in particular:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • people in rural and remote areas
  • children and young people
  • people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness
  • women experiencing perinatal depression
  • people with intellectual disability
  • people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • people at high risk of suicide.

Through this program, up to 12 sessions are likely to be available in a calendar year. To access these psychological therapies, you will need to have a mental health treatment plan developed by a GP, or have a referral from a paediatrician or a psychiatrist. 

Generally, there is little or no out-of-pocket expense incurred.

Primary mental health services for people with severe mental health conditions

These services are designed to complement and enhance the Better Access program, and are specifically for people with severe and complex mental health conditions. The services available are likely to include mental health nursing and clinical care coordination.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health services

These services are intended to be culturally appropriate and safe, and designed to holistically meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They may be delivered by Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, Aboriginal Mental Health Services, or mainstream services.

Child and youth mental health services

Young people aged 12 to 25 can access information, support and services through headspace. Talk to your doctor or PHN to find out if other dedicated child and youth mental health services are available in your community.

Private health insurance

There are many private health insurance companies and a range of coverage levels available. If you have private health cover, it is recommended that you contact your private health insurance company to find out if psychological services are covered and to what level. You may also be able to claim a co-payment for some medications not subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

e-therapies

e-therapies are online programs designed to provide assistance via the internet (or via mobile phone applications) for people experiencing anxietydepression or related conditions. For people with mild to moderate depression or anxiety, psychological therapies that are well-suited to online platforms (such as CBT) have been shown to be useful.

Some online programs are offered free-of-charge, while others charge a fee. Visit mindhealthconnect for a list of online programs. 

Sources of support